In Philippine south, `ghost voters' visit polls
Marawi, Philippines — In Marawi, people say, even the birds and the bees vote. The joke stems from the occasional tendency of the number of votes cast in this area to exceed the number of voters registered. The Muslim south has long been known for electoral fraud on a grand scale, and there is no indication that the snap presidential election scheduled for Feb. 7 will be an exception. Other parts of the Philippines have ghost voters. But Marawi and the two neighboring provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte have ghost barangays -- whole communities that do not exist.
Marawi is the Muslim heartland of the Philippines. The Muslims here, the Maranao -- one of four major Muslim groups -- cling to their separate identity.
The city, on the edge of a beautiful lake high in the hills, should be a prime tourist attraction. But the hotel is usually deserted, this time with the exception of one guest, a swarm of hard-drinking mosquitoes, and a security guard in full combat gear. Marawi was the site of the 1972 Muslim uprising. The Muslim insurgents of the Moro National Liberation Front are still active, and the city is still heavily militarized.
Wooden watchtowers manned by armed troops dot the road leading from the coast. Troops drive around at high speed in jeeps. The soldiers, most of whom are Christians speaking dialects the Maranao do not understand, are widely viewed as an army of occupation. Despite the promise from President Ferdinand Marcos's government that the armed forces will be neutral in the election, many military jeeps bear Marcos-Tolentino stickers.
``They want to make sure we get the message,'' says a Muslim teacher.
The ruling party, the Movement for a New Society -- known universally as the KBL -- plans to obtain 1.1 million of the 1.3 million votes in Region 12 -- the two Lanao provinces and several other predominantly Muslim provinces. They may well succeed.
The KBL chairman for Region 12 is Ali Dimaporo, governor of Lanao del Sur and a tough old warlord who is said to have been the originator of the ghost communities. Last year, he handed over the governship temporarily to his brother, expecting to be named Mr. Marcos's running mate in the election. When this did not happen, his supporters say, he was furious. One widespread story is that he threatened to allow the elections in his region to be clean.
A senior KBL campaign official denies this. ``Ali wouldn't say anything like that,'' the official said. Mr. Dimaporo's brother says that Ali has overcome any ``mental reservations'' about the present vice-presidential candidate, Arturo Tolentino. But he adds that some KBL leaders in Region 12 want to tell their people to vote for Marcos as president and Salvador Laurel, the opposition candidate, as vice-president.
The opposition here puts on a brave face. ``If the election is clean, we'll beat the government,'' says former Sen. Do-mocao Alonto, the opposition leader. But few people expect the election to be clean. Mr. Alonto says he fears Marcos's party will bribe opposition poll watchers into signing fake electoral returns. Alonto also worries about the military. In many parts of the province, he says, votes in the May 1984 election were counted in military camps instead of voting precincts.
The opposition's fears should make crucial the role of the independent poll-watching group, Namfrel, the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections. But Namfrel is keeping a low profile here. It has no office, and the leader, a former KBL assemblyman, is somewhat elusive. ``You see, he has three wives, so we never know in which house to look for him,'' said an acquaintance, explaining why he had abandoned a recent search for him.
And Marawi is one of the few places where Namfrel will not be supported by the local Roman Catholic bishop, Bien-venido Tudtud, who says he will boycott the election. Bishop Tudtud has been attempting to foster Muslim-Christian dialogue here for nine years. But Tudtud and others here, both Muslim and Christian, speak of a situation throughout the Muslim areas that borders on societal collapse -- a situation not likely to be improved much by whoever wins an election.
The bishop spent the last 18 months in a community southwest of Marawi where the local people, Christians and Muslims, live in fear of the Civilian Home Defense Forces, the government's paramilitary forces. There, as elsewhere on Mindanao, the government has recruited for the defense force from a fanatical Christian sect known as the ``Tadtad,'' the bishop says. ``The word means `chop' because they chop up their victims,'' he explains. Alleged Tadtad atrocities have forced people to move into Muslim areas.
Situations like these have made the people turn away from the government, observers say. Maranao used to be highly politicized, local people claim. But after Mr. Marcos declared martial law in 1972, people became cynical about elections.
``People in the countryside tend to say, `Why bother to go and vote?' '' says a Muslim community organizer who spends much time traveling the countryside arranging adult-literacy classes.
``I think Cory [Aquino, the opposition presidential candidate] is actually strong here, but I don't think people will go out and vote,'' the community organizer continued. He, for one, will not.
Worse even than apathy, perhaps, is the breakdown of law and order.
``Nobody here looks to the government for justice,'' says Bishop Tudtud. ``They just go hire a killer or do it themselves.''
``Our people are very close,'' says the community organizer. ``When one person dies, the whole community helps. When one person is killed, the whole family takes up arms.''
``Last month,'' he continued, ``one of my relatives was killed in a land dispute. The family is now looking for the killer. If they can't find him. They'll kill his nearest relative.''
The speaker is quietly desperate about the situation. His solution sounds harsh.
``Our ulama [Muslim religious leaders] say that the only way we can bring peace and order here is imposing Sharia -- Is-lamic law. I think they are right. If someone kills somebody else, he will die. Adulterers will be stoned to death, and thieves will have a hand cut off.'' Only sharia will cut down violence, he says.
The speaker is not a radical Muslim. Unlike many, perhaps most Maranao people, he is not attracted by the idea of autonomy or independence. ``I feel myself very Filipino, and I have many Christian friends,'' he says.
Waiting in the wings is the Moro National Liberation Front. ``We feel that any elections under the present regime are meaningless for our movement,'' says a political cadre in the organization. ``Armed struggle is the only way.''