The ARMM elections are due to be held in August 2008. Given the controversies surrounding the elections in 2004 and 2007 and the role played by ARMM in fostering them, serious questions are being raised again regarding the coming ARMM elections and possible impact on the 2010 presidential elections.
These have been compounded by the recent killing of director Wynne Asdala, the acting head of the Comelec Legal Department, who–like his assassinated predecessor Director Alioden Dalaig–hails from ARMM. Rumors are rife that their deaths concern controversial cases in ARMM, particularly the Sharif Kabungsuan case of electoral protest regarding the winner in the gubernatorial contest.
Comelec recently decided to automate the coming August 2008 ARMM elections, based on the recommendation of the Comelec Advisory Council under the new automation law, RA 6369. However, it modified the recommendation limiting the use of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) technology to two cities to one of expanding the coverage to the whole of Maguindanao province. It also still has to formally endorse to Congress the Advisory Council recommendation to postpone by three month the ARMM elections elections in order to prepare fully for the automation.
ARMM had been the site of two nearly failed pilot projects for automation in 1996 and 1998. The culprit in both cases was the vulnerability of the machines to sabotage, forcing the counting to revert back to manual counting–and cheating. The current automation plan needs to take this into account.
It is important to monitor the coming ARMM elections if only to estimate the extent election automation can restrict or prevent electoral cheating, especially in the light of the assertion new Comelec Chairman Melo’s to stake his incumbency on the implementation of electoral modernization in 2010. It is also appropriate to cite the Bantay Eleksyon 2007 conclusion that the cheating capacity in ARMM can influence–if not decide–the winner in the 2010 elections, particularly in a relatively close contest.
One of the urgent electoral reform in preparation for 2010 is the cleaning up of the electoral process and administration in ARMM.