Cablegate: Counting of Votes Continues in Muslim Autonomous

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


B. MANILA 3655
C. MANILA 3611
D. MANILA 3477
E. MANILA 3435

1. (U) This message is Sensitive But Unclassified -- Please
handle accordingly.

2. (SBU) Summary: Officials continue to count votes cast in
the August 8 Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)
elections. Results are due to be released within the next 24
hours. Only minor problems have been reported during the
counting phase, and the law and order situation continues to
be largely peaceful so far. While the GRP has praised the
conduct of the elections, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF), a Muslim insurgent group, has sharply criticized
them. Overall, the elections appear to have gone relatively
well, although the risk of fraud and violence remains.
Suggested "if asked" press guidance developed by Mission is
attached in Para 11. End Summary.

Counting Continues

3. (SBU) Election officials continue to tally ballots from
the August 8 ARMM elections at several centralized counting
centers (see ref b). The Commission on Elections (COMELEC),
an independent GRP body, is overseeing the counting process.
As part of this effort, COMELEC continues to coordinate the
movement of all ballots cast in Maguindinao and Lanao del Sur
Provinces to counting centers located in Cotabato City, while
ballots from the three island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and
Tawi Tawi will be counted locally. COMELEC extended voting
until noon on August 9 in some limited areas, such as
Sumisip, Basilan Province, where it declared a "failure of
election" due to alleged "ballot snatching" (see ref b).

4. (SBU) So far, COMELEC has not announced results for any
of the races (governor, vice governor, or the 24-member
Regional Assembly). It has indicated that it plans to do so
within the next 24 hours, though that timeframe may slip.
COMELEC has not yet released voter turnout figures. Initial
reports indicate that turnout in some ARMM areas was lower
than in the 2001 elections due to heavy rains, residents
being unable to leave work to go to vote, and perhaps some
apathy among residents. At the same time, other areas are
reporting solid turnouts. (Note: Philippine elections
usually generate a high turnout: the 2001 ARMM elections had
82 percent turnout, while the May 2004 Philippine General
Elections had 77 percent turnout. End Note.)

Some Reports of Irregularities

5. (U) The elections appear to have been fairly orderly,
though there were some problems. Media sources reported
several isolated incidents of irregularities in voting on
August 8, such as: the distribution of flyers inside
precincts; "operators" for candidates handing out cash at
polling places; and failure to use indelible ink to preclude

6. (SBU) Mission observers in the Cotabato area also
witnessed some apparent irregularities and non-transparent
procedures at canvassing centers they visited. Several
Mission observers, for example, reported that officials hid
tally sheets when they arrived at the centers. One observer
saw an official apparently marking votes on a tally sheet
that did not correspond to the physical counting of ballots.
Additionally, another Mission observer noted that the voter
turnout figures he was seeing in the counting centers he
visited (more than 95 percent) were seemingly implausibly
higher than what he had observed at polling places in the
area on August 8.

7. (U) Despite this clutch of seeming irregularities,
candidates generally have not yet begun to bicker over
charges of fraud, though this might occur once results are
announced downstream. In particular, candidates in the most
high-profile race -- that for governor -- have been
relatively restrained while the counting continues.

GRP Upbeat

8. (SBU) The GRP is generally upbeat about the unfolding
situation. Government and military officials have praised
the elections for being calm and orderly. In an August 8
press statement, President Arroyo vowed, "Whoever is elected
will get the full support of the President and the national
government," while Malacanang spokesman Ignacio Bunye hailed
what he characterized as a "generally safe and secure"
election day. COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos was quoted as
stating that the elections were "unusually peaceful and the
cleanest and freest so far." Abalos allowed that there had
been some minor problems. Brigadier General Ben Dolorfino,
the head of the military task force assigned to secure the
elections, confirmed that there were no reports of casualties
from election-related violence, kidnappings, or terrorist
acts. He noted that there had been some minor incidents
involving violence (see ref b). Lanao del Sur Governor Aleem
Bashier Manalao, a well-known Muslim official, commended
COMELEC, the military, and the police for successfully
coordinating efforts during the election timeframe.

Insurgent Group Lashes Out

9. (SBU) The insurgent group MILF has lashed out at the
elections. Eid Kabalu, a MILF spokesmen, said the group
boycotted what he described as the "meaningless" and
"fraudulent" ARMM elections. He said the MILF would rather
work for "genuine" self-government. The MILF rejected the
ARMM, which he said had failed to end the conflict in
Mindanao. Kabalu made no remarks indicating that his group's
negative view of the elections would impact the peace track
with the GRP. (Note: The GRP and MILF have held eight
rounds of talks. They were supposed to meet again in late
July, but the meeting was postponed, apparently at the behest
of the Malaysian facilitators. -- See ref e. End Note.)


10. (SBU) Overall, the elections appear to have gone
relatively well, especially given the fears that there might
be widespread chaos and violence. It is too soon for the GRP
to pat itself on the back just yet because the risk of fraud
and violence remains. For example, as noted, tensions could
easily flare once results are announced and defeated
candidates make the inevitable claims of fraud. The GRP --
through COMELEC and its large security force presence --
appears ready for eventualities, although inter-ethnic and
clan-based relations in the ARMM are tangled and can erupt
into violence quickly. Mission observation teams, which are
wrapping up their efforts, appear to have helped send a
strong message to residents of the ARMM that the
international community remains very interested in their
situation, while underscoring the need for clean elections.
End Comment.

"If Asked" Press Guidance

11. (U) Mission has developed the following suggested "if
asked" press guidance:

"We commend the citizens of the Autonomous Region in Muslim
Mindanao (ARMM) for exercising their democratic rights to
vote in the August 8 elections. We also commend efforts by
civilian, military, and police officials to ensure a safe
environment for the elections. We pledge to continue to work
through the International Foundation for Election Systems
(IFES) to strengthen voter education and civil society
participation in the electoral process."

(Further, if asked)

Q: Do you view the elections as credible or as truly free
and fair?

A: This is a judgment for the people of the Philippines to
make, notably through the Commission on Elections (COMELEC),
the COMELEC-accredited Parish Pastoral Council for
Responsible Voting (PPCRV), and other civil society


© Scoop Media

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