Next year is the Presidential year election here in the Philippines, so there are a lot of rumors and accusations being zinged back and forth. Ballot box stuffing occurs with every election, so the latest way the government is hoping to get around fraud is voting machines. There is a big trust in technology, so a lot of money is being spent, and the public is being assured they are fool proof.

Others are more sceptical. If there is a way to steal the elections, it will be done. On the other hand, vote buying is common here in the provinces:  Votes here are ten dollars a vote, but since both candidates tend to offer almost the same amount, the locals simply take the money from their favorite politician.

But the recent massacre of a politician’s wife, and 57 other civilians, including almost thirty journalists, ;last month in the Southern Philippines is not only exposing how the government would cooperate with one clan to run things in the volitile Southern provinces, but many hope that the investigation may uncover the long suspected election fraud in Maguindanao and other southern provinces.

These suspicions got a boost when, while digging up illegal weapons, a lot of voter cards and registrations were  found by the military.

The evidence was taken to the local Comelec (election commission) offices and stored until they could be examined more closely. Why the delay? Well, it is Christmas season, and it’s hard to get anything done from mid December through early January, because too many people take off to go home for the celebrations, leaving the area short staffed.

Tuesday was the feast of the Three Kings, and the official end of the holiday season.

So when the Comelec offices in Shariff Aguak, in Maguindanao, were opened on Wednesday morning, authorities found that the offices had been looted, despite the military security that was supposed to be guarding the offices.

This immediately resulted in politicians pointing fingers:

In Manila, two senators on Wednesday raised suspicions about the theft and urged the Comelec head office to investigate. They said it might be part of cleaning up the cheating mess committed there during the 2004 and 2007 elections.

“The suspicion is very strong that they’re clearing the office of incriminatory documents,” said Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

The memory of the “Hello Garci” tapes, and the landslide won by President Arroyo’s party in that area are still being questioned by the opposition parties. Witnesses on both sides can lie, be intimidated, or get shot, but if the law gets hold of non existent voter registrations, the trail of links might lead directly to the President and her allies.

In an earlier story, Orbase claimed

they took  They took the water dispenser and some kitchen utensils, but Orbase said some documents might be missing .

However, later reports deny that the documents were taken: they now claim that the thieves were ordinary thieves, similar to the gang who are going around in military uniforms stealing water buffalo from farmers.

No politics here, folks, just move on.

All of this is puzzling, since water coolers are fairly large (they tend to be those big jugs on a cooler base, which used to be found in US offices, and aren’t something one can easily sneak out a window). And mentioning bond paper and paper clips make things even more puzzling. Yes, these things could be sold for money, so are commonly pilfered, but why no mention of stealing computers, calculators, typewriters, xerox machines, or small radios that are common in government offices?

The story is still developing,  but in an election year, it will take an expert to figure out what is the truth and what is spin.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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