I know it’s hard to follow Philippine politics from abroad (it’s even hard when you’re smack in the middle of it). So, I’d like to give a quick recap of some of the exciting things going on regarding Halalan2007. The fun just began on May 14th. You couldn’t invent stuff better than this.

Philippines is where…

Starbucks is more expensive than gas;

every street has basketball court but every town has just 1 school;

doctors go back to school to become nurses abroad;

soap opera is reality, news provide the dramas of life;

actors make the laws & politicians provide entertainment.

-text forward (the communication vehicle of the nation!)

The Senate, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur

So, it’s been over a month since elections were held on May 14th, and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) still has yet to declare the winner of the last of 12 Senate seats. Lt. Anotnio “Sonny” Trillanes was proclaimed winner of the 11th seat on June 15th. (More on Trillanes later). Right now the 12th seat is up for grabs between Genuine Opposition (GO, the opposition coalition, obviously) candidate Alquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Team Unity (TU, the pro-administration coalition) candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri.

So far Pimentel is leading with more than 100,000 votes. What could turn the tide in favor of Zubiri are the votes from Maguindanao, which are being contested for two main reasons:

1) In Maguindanao, TU candidates won 12-0. Nationally, TU hasn’t been doing so great. Of 12 senate seats, TU candidates have won 2 (it will be 3 if Zubiri wins). Yet, somehow, they managed a clean sweep in Magindinao. Now, anytime there is unanimity in politics, we should be suspicious. If there is unanimity in favor of unpopular candidates, we should be extra suspicious. When these suspicious results come from Maguindinao, a part of Mindinao, which is largely regarded as the election fraud capital of the Philippines, well that’s something.

2)  Lots and lots of fraud: In Philippine elections, fraud is the rule and not the exception. While Maguindanao is certainly not the only place where fraud occurs, election related “anomalies” have been popping up left and right. They have reached such a level of absurdity, that I myself try to stop myself from laughing whenever I think about them. Some highlights:

– There are reports that elections didn’t actually happen in Maguindanao at all. Several sources (including reports heard by the Mindanao team of the COMPACT IOM) have reported that the Elections Returns (basically vote tally-sheets) were prepared in the week before the election. One teacher (public school teachers administer elections) actually came to the media and reported participating in making these election returns. His testimony was immediately picked up by various media groups, NGO’s, and the opposition. There was finally a witness stating publicly what everyone knew but was either afraid to share or unable to prove. TU and the COMELEC gave their stock reply of “We can’t trust this person, we don’t know if he is telling the truth. We will investigate.” Strangely enough, 48 hours before the COMELEC in Manila was to hold a hearing on allegations of massive fraud in Maguindanao, this teacher was shot dead.

– Lintang Bedol, the election supervisor in southern Maguindanao actually went into hiding after the 12-0 Senate results for Maguindanao were proclaimed. I mean, into hiding as in no one could find him. COMELEC headquarters asked him to come to Manila on May 30 and he didn’t show. COMELEC tried to locate him so that he could present some election documents, but they couldn’t find him. Bedol finally appeared before the COMELEC on June 11. He didn’t have the election documents the COMELEC had been waiting for, stating they had been stolen two weeks earlier. Despite the stolen documents, Bedol said elections in Maguindanao were peaceful and fraud had not marred the vote. However, he didn’t actually know how elections were conducted because although he is election supervisor for Maguindanao, on the actual day of elections he was observing in a different province.

– The COMELEC has been toying with the idea of declaring a failure of elections and holding special elections in Maguindanao, as well as several other places (Lanao del Sur, Batangas, etc.), though Maguindanao remains at the forefront of national attention because of its possible affect on the Senate race. The nation is still holding its breath as the COMELEC investigates and decides its plan of action.

Trillanes

On June 15, Lt. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes was proclaimed winner of the 11th Senate seat.

Trillanes is an unconventional candidate. First, he is the first active duty soldier to be elected lawmaker. Second, Trillanes actually incarcerated right now facing military court martial for an alleged coup attempt against the GMA government in 2003.

Trillanes waged his campaign from inside a jail cell. His victory is largely the result of the efforts of dedicated supporters and media attention, versus the traditional political tricks and expenditures. While a lot of people didn’t know he was running (due to his inability to campaign), a large proportion of those who did indicated they would vote for him.

Most obviously, Trillanes’ victory is a huge blow to GMA’s image. In an election that many see as a referedum on the administration (indeed, a referendum which she has lost due to the dominance of GO candidates in the Senate), a Navy officer who is known for allegedly trying to overthrow the GMA government via a coup d’etat has won a national office.

The question now is how Trillanes will actually serve in the Senate. Armed Forces Cheif of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. has stated that Trillanes election vistory will not change the terms of his captivity. He is still under the jurisdiction of military court martial. This position is, of course, supported by the administration, which claims Gen. Esperon is just following the law.

Thus, one is begged to ask how Trillanes will attend legislative session. In order to attend his own victory proclamation, Trillanes had to file a request to leave with the court martial body. The are several schemes as to the logistics of Trillanes service in the Senate, but all are still theoretical. There is no precedent for this situaiton.

It seems, however, the Armed Forces might be willing to be flexible. On June 16, Gen. Esperon confirmed that “rebel forces” would still face the rule of law despite the election results. However, Esperon was also open with the policy and legislation suggestions he would have for a bloc of former military officers in the Senate. Dealmaking is part of Philippine politics. It seems suggested that even the supposedly rigid and harsh military law is able to be bent.