A whole lot is being said about Maguindanao and how the COMELEC will be addressing that thorny issue. To sort it all out, we have to first understand that no failure of elections has yet been declared in that place.

The confusion arose because of a problem in language, I would suppose. The Order issued by the COMELEC calling for a special hearing on Monday – the 11th (yes it’s a holiday, and yes we don’t care) – to discuss the problem was captioned “IN THE MATTER OF DECLARING FAILURE OF ELECTIONS IN THE CONDUCT OF THE 14 MAY 2007 ELECTIONS IN THE PROVINCE OF MAGUINDANAO.”

So, I suppose you can see where the misinterpretation came from. Having said that however, it boggles the mind why this order would be reported as a declaration of failure when, first, the caption clearly states “In the matter of …” meaning that it deals with that subject. There is very little internal evidence (internal to the phrase, that is) that would indicate that the Order contains an actual declaration of failure. At most, the caption suggests that a declaration has been made.

Second, even assuming that the suggestion is strong enough to create the misimpression, the people who reported on this order ought to be assumed to have read the whole thing through before actually reporting on it. If they had, they would have seen that it would be premature to banner the headline “COMELEC declares failure of elections in Maguindanao.” And to take that line of thought further, it would also be unfair to later on say “COMELEC backtracks.”

Still, I suppose all of that is so much muddy water under the bridge. By now, everyone understands that no such declaration has yet been made, and that it all hinges on Monday’s hearing.

Tell me why I don’t like Mondays

The sequence of events that led – or will lead – to Monday’s OK-Corral-esque happenings goes a little something like this:

Soon after the start of canvassing, the Genuine Oppposition began its very vocal objections to the certificates of canvass from Maguindanao claiming a 12-0 result there for Team Unity. This demand was later amplified by reports that a teacher had supposedly (remember, this claim has not yet been fully investigated, much less proven) admitted to manufacturing the results of the count. In response, the COMELEC formed Task Force Maguindanao.

The creation of the Task Force was lauded – albeit in lukewarm fashion – but its work was overshadowed by the need to conduct special elections in 13 places in Lanao del Sur.

In the meantime, the provincial COCs from Maguindanao were finally laid out for canvassing. Counsels for the candidates quickly objected to the PCOCs citing statistical improbability in the 12-0 results the PCOCs reflected. And here is where it gets sticky.

The very vocal objections called for the scrapping of the entire Maguindanao vote. Let me make that very clear. The people who were objecting to the PCOCs wanted the COMELEC to NOT COUNT any of the votes from Maguindanao. The COMELEC, on the other hand, wanted to check the municipal COCs first to see if those also reflected 12-0 results. The theory is that the municipal COCs were prepared from the original election returns which, in turn, were prepared in the precincts directly from the reading of the ballots. Naturally, the usual people raised howls of protest.

Why bother with the MCOCs, they asked, when these were sure to be manufactured anyway. To be fair, this kind of reasoning carries a fair bit of sense. After all, if 12-0 at the PCOC level is statistically impossible, why should not an identical result at the MCOC level be similarly impossible? Well, yes, BUT.

But what if an MCOC actually showed a different result? Then, apart from proving cheating, that would also mean that the cheating (if any) happened at the level of the provincial canvassing. And that was why it was important to see the MCOCs before rushing into any sort of judgement about the Maguindanao vote. If the MCOCs did not show a 12-0 result, then there was a chance that the elections did occur, that the elections were probably clean and creditable, and that the problem existed only at the provincial canvassing level.

Throughout all of this, the nearly universal clamor was to declare the elections in Maguindanao a failure. Remember that. It becomes important later on.

Anyway, when the Provincial Election Supervisor was asked to explain the PCOCs, he flatly stated that he did not have the MCOCs; that these documents were not turned over to him by the municipal canvassing boards. This made his position even more untenable. So, the National Board of Canvassers created a special board of canvassers to canvass the MCOCs once these were received as a result of a subpoena duces tecum that was issued, i.e., the COMELEC told all the municipal boards of canvassers to cough up the MCOCs so they could be canvassed again.

But no MCOCs arrived. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.  The special board of canvassers terminated their abortive canvass and finally, it seemed, the people who had been clamoring for a declaration of failure of elections would get their wish.

Why would they get their wish? Here’s why: a failure can be declared if it can be shown that no elections took place.  This was the core of the failure-ists’ clamor – that the elections in Maguindanao either literally did not take place, or if they did, they were so dirty that free elections did not, in a manner of speaking, actually take place. I don’t know if it will ever make the law books, but what the failure-ists were insisting on was nothing less than a ‘constructive (as opposed to actual) failure of elections.’

With the no-show of MCOCs, the National Board of Canvassers were faced with a very clear indication that elections literally did not take place. You see, elections generate election returns, which generate municipal certificates of canvass and so on. If there are no MCOCs, then the presumption arises that there were no election returns; and no election returns means no elections. Get it? The link leads to a powerpoint presentation that explains this all in pictures.

This led the National Board of Canvassers to issue that Order calling for a hearing on Monday, making it clear that a declaration of failure of elections was probable.

So, you’d think that the failure-ists would be happy. But apparently they aren’t. Now, why they aren’t happy I don’t really care to speculate about. Enough insinuations have been bandied around. But the bottom line is, the same people who have gone from advocating a declaration of failure of elections to the suggestion that the Maguindanao votes be divided equally among all candidates (WTF?! Doing that would effectively reduce the Maguindanao vote to ZERO since all the candidates would remain in the same positions in the rankings relative to each other) to the brazen proposal to just ignore the Maguindanao vote, in effect pretending that the 330++ thousand Maguindanaoan vote doesn’t exist are now vociferously objecting to the holding of special elections.

This despite the fact that special elections – with the whole stakeholding world watching – would clear everything up nicely.  Well, nicely for the Senators. Maybe not so nicely for every other elective official who would have to give up their wins and proclamations if there were an election do-over.

But then again, if it is true that no elections were held, then even these proclamations become suspect. So again, a new round of elections would remove the cloud of doubt that, inevitably, will hang over their heads for all their three-year terms. A special elections would be proof positive that they won.

And so, that’s the story of Maguindanao … so far. How it unfolds from here, well, we’ll all know on Monday.

P.S. There’s an interesting sidelight to this story: someone calling special elections a run-off. Puhleeze, man. Special elections are nothing like run-off elections. For one thing, run-offs are called only in places where they are a part of the process, for another – and this is the main thing – there are only two candidates in a run-off; and the winner is the one who gets 50% of the votes plus one. In the case of Maguindanao, no such circumstances exist.

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