MISEDUCATION OF MUSLIM-MORO ON ELECTORALISM Datu Michael O. Mastura
To say that there is no real national policy on the Muslim-Moro in Mindanao and Sulu is to do nothing about immediate politics. But there is, I believe, a much stronger impulse to say or do a number of things during election period in the Philippines. Not the least appropriate perhaps one can say categorically that there is strength in numbers after all to operate or manipulate ‘electoralism’. Far from there being a “free-Muslim Mindanao” conspiracy to eliminate the Bangsamoro people (and the MILF or the MNLF or the Abu Sayyaf) what they end up with is cooptation into money power politics. A preliminary statement of twenty-one observers from the ANFREL (Asian Network for Free Elections) who spent eight days to watch the ARMM pre-election situation and Election Day activity may be a starting point for change. Ballot secrecy folders were seen as ineffectual: Why? “This lack of secrecy can be very intimidating.” How can it be? It can facilitate vote-buying by allowing voters, “to demonstrate their adherence to a previously struck bargain” says the observer. Media reporters—read, more accurately opinion editors—are wrong to say that casting of votes or counting of ballots runs afoul in the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) simply because Muslim-Moro individuals have low literacy rate. What makes such comments most absurd is anti-Moro profiling of their leaders (if not out of discriminatory slant by sheer slur) who are perceived to keep them illiterate or uneducated enough to organize them into so-called “command votes” constituency. And that is an essential point. Things must change because political rights are granted to many people who are in no position to take full advantage of them. It makes sense to remind our people that it was former Comelec commissioner Haydee Yorac who had to pose: “Does Muslim Mindanao deserve elections?” That feisty lady had to utter those words in her fit of frustration with the clan politics of the late strong-man of Lanao del Sur, Ali Dimpaoro. Historically the right to vote was extended to Muslims, in 1959, after considerable struggles and compromises. Yet it takes a lot more logic (not magic) since the task of solving deficiencies in the election process falls on this republican State it being a societal dimension of citizenship. A cycle of anomalies derived from deferred electoralism is in fact an outgrowth of its very predatory nature: ineluctable party operators, senatorial tail-enders, and inept election officers all prey on ‘swing-vote areas’ of the Bangsamoro people.
The Bangsamoro Forum contributes to the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies role as a forum for discussion of issues affecting the Bangsamoro people and their homeland. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of the IBS.
2 Not since the Hello Garci Tapes scandal has this Country felt the troubling anomy that makes a mockery of the very substantive principle of legitimacy. Good warning to our readers here as to what we make of democracy now: a presidency whose alibi family resemblance is a ‘government of politicians’ but not of ‘good men’. Thus in a functioning system the dictum ‘government is best that governs least’ applies only to separate the private from what is public. Our best glimpse at what ails electoralism starts at central party nominations where only at the top politicians would control what decision is happening and why. Little wonder ‘dynastic slots are reserved seats’ in majority or minority Coalitions. Others of a progressive-wing bent like Bayan Muna and Gabriela embrace the trade via the party list nominations; in readiness, the faithbased sectors and right-leaning coup plotters seek their own accredited political mouthpieces, too. Such is the parliamentary path that now undergirds broad-clientele-based conspiracy against the electorate in general, and in tandem with members of the fractious national political parties it logs on to the pork-barrel largesse networks. What remains to account for is current proliferation of LGUs (local government units) where the distributive function of the IRA (internal revenue allotments) is really at work. From experience, I contend, the national style of making politics perpetuates the dirty and dishonest electoralism. Targeting LGUs of the Muslim region of autonomy, the intended consequences are indeed disgraceful to us as it is a disservice to the whole Country. How can this electoral process relate to the “primacy of the peace process” is a policy consideration that must steer a course between engaging and restraining armed force with regard for constituency “command concerns”. Something similar happens here in regard to clan politics: If they cannot bring their acts together to focus on this, very little concerted action happens.
First of all, warning on blatant attempts to rig the recent the Lanao polls, we have no reason to disagree with Amando Doronila that such bad practice can “easily trigger the collapse of the century-old electoral system”. But this frame of analysis treats Philippine democracy as a method. That is why he goes on to say, its viability precariously rest on electoralism. “Obviously poll-rigging schemes are mainly plotted in Manila,” argues the Muslim lawyer Mejol Sadain who once served as a Comelec commissioner. The final step is “carried out by ‘operators’ who flock to Mindanao during election seasons.” It is the peak of manipulative corruption because the cornerstones of balloting—freedom and equality—are repressed and concealed. Secondly, it is politically incorrect for political analysts to single out Muslim Mindanao just to tag it the main theater of electoral frauds in the Philippine polls. People often ask me why there is no other viable option without national politicians taking charge of it. When regional specialist Kit Collier and Malcolm Cook look at Mindanao “a gamble worth taking” in terms of risk factor the more paradoxical danger is that “localized state failure provides national political benefits.” None of the senatorial slates or any of the political parties put it in their election platform. Is there something more to it than money? Curiously I have talked to a lot of observers, and the hypocrisy of it is nothing short of outrageous pledging of the plight of conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. Thirdly, what exactly is the point about the politico-strategic interests if not to undermine the arguments for retaining an armed body to fight for self-determination of the Bangsamoro people? Pragmatically, though, the lessons learned from MNLF’s failure to vie and bid as electoral force only serve to resolve current MILF’s stance of abstentionism from electoral politics. Those who argue for the MILF post-conflict entry into electoral politics somewhat resembling IRA-Sinn-Fein slogan “the Armalite and ballot box” are overcome by realities of failed electoral process in the field.
3 Suffice is it to stress, aside from the expected support funds, most party local candidates run on the administration ticket to be entitled to the important election documents—statements of votes (SoVs), certificates of canvass (CoCs), election returns (ERs). All controversies or anomalies surrounding results of the election arise from the preparation to filling out these forms. But equally critical the proclamations of winning candidates or electoral protests hinge on their proper completion. It stands to reason why this stage is a watershed in jurisprudence for now enters lawyers and retainers. What initially starts as anomalous electoralism turns into lucre for legalism via “chamber lawyering” lurking in the background. What happens in deferred electoralism is that brokers or operators may or may not be tolerated by Comelec but opposing candidates try to cut deals from under them. To talk about periodic failures of elections in Bangsamoro areas is never to talk about ‘numbers of ballots teachers fill out’. Rather, it is about the miseducation of individuals on electoralism; for, ‘sanctity of ballots’ never legitimizes any ‘elective despotism’. Protection of freedom is less secure in the hands of the powerful than in the care of people who have the least desire to usurp it. Regardless of motives of politicians, consultation (or shura) as a legitimizing process in the Muslim-Moro culture cannot be equated it with the justificatory instruments of unfair election. The elements of consensus leave leeway for free decision or selection. Misappropriations of shura by those who are less conversant with jurisprudence (or fikh) might lead to ruinous ends, thus further sowing discord (or fitna) that undermines Muslim society from within. This dreadful discourse preys on the conscience of the ulama sector—and scholars of Islam—motivating them to remain vigilant and prudent so that fitna can be avoided. Under Islamic jurisprudence, it is this same burden of responsibility to avoid fitna that privilege
the ulama legitimately to declare jihad, armed struggle being its extreme form. Obviously in the exercise of the right to vote, what has gone awry to a point of evolution to a culture of impunity is its very enabling mechanism seen in the latest election. At the polling place, the present Election Law allows a registered non-literate voter to be assisted in person instead of secretly casting the ballot through some identifiable icons or party symbols as realistically practiced in other countries like India or Thailand. Thus the Asian Foreign Election Observers on the Mission has reported that “there was very little voter education in the ARMM” compared to other Asian countries. Writing about such dismal default in political education in this Country, I have often argued that it not enough to maintain a democracy. A poorly functioning republican system state has little regard for its bearing on good governance and citizenship that go beyond “voting once in a while and paying taxes all the time.” Having been elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1971 made me aware at once that there is no correlation in absolute terms between literacy and numeracy to skew universal suffrage. Given current inclusive understanding, the discourse presently empowers those who are discerning about the right of choice (even though unable to read and write) so as to be entitled to the electoral franchise. Against this backdrop of the flaw of the party system, and alongside the absence of genuine opposition candidates (political correctness demands opposing parties), it has proved appalling that electoralism is taking Bangsamoro electorate nowhere. Consider the 12-zero results in Maguindanao favoring all the administration senatorial bets. Governor Datu Andal Ampatuan has chosen his headline story to emerge as trends proving ‘all politics are local’. Comelec’s move to investigate it is not the messy state of affairs that the strongman desires to find himself. Such are contemporary narratives to conflate a contrast with MNLF’s founder Nur Misuari
4 who was routed when he contested the latest gubernatorial race in Sulu. Critics nowadays question—whether elections actually took place in Maguindanao—when what’s scant seems to strike a fear of the unknown. The immediate politics for MILF is a problematic definable in terms of group loyalty (asabiya) based on culture, obedience or fealty to a leader based on (bay‘ah) allegiance in Islamic tenets. It is cast not on a mechanism of selection in the Election Code. How easy is it to label MILF political concerns as agitation? That is to contrast the government of politicians that has reduced democratic spaces to procedural steps. Faced on the opposition side, this has demonstrably failed to show that there is a regularity of democratic change thru popular will. Of course, election figures could look much lopsided than it is in purely statistical terms in tandem with the use of armed force. That is another story: here the voice of the people becomes the echoes. At this imprecise moment, the duty to obey (i.e. those in authority under shari’a law) does not mean to toe government line alone. For brevity, my conclusion draws evidence at party level on lived experiences playing party ideologue, and taking seriously the role of Party Whip where political ‘turncoatism’ practice turns on the handiwork of pragmatism. If any thing,
while serving my term in Congress, it has provided me the immediate tool to reinvent part of the party system. To craft the enabling provisions of the Party List System, it was my research work that contributed creatively in addressing the modality for casting ballots and block appreciation of returns modeled on mathematically-proven German formula for party list representation. Voting has gone very differently now. My sensitizing agitation is to organize political concerns in the present. It is a whole struggle over authority for the Muslim-Moro movement on a set of interests (less posited on theological point but essentially territorial) in which a number of movements can take place. Each of the political parties in the present set up entered the compromise quite uneven. An explanation relevant to my argument is in order. So unimaginatively, at Senate-House Conference Committee level, the ruling coalition and appointive ‘sectoral’ representatives organized their efforts around a set of reified givens: the appointed incumbents, mixed group pressures on each other, and balance of majority-minority party. Nationwide compromise formulas howsoever construed in case logic hardly gives an integral Muslim-Moro experience of national politics to advance their proportionate representation.
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