There has long been a saying in Philippine politics that there are no losers in elections – only winners and those that have been cheated of victory.
Presidential, congressional, and local elections on May 10 seemed at first to have dissolved this mindset, after a new, computerized vote-counting system delivered apparently incontestable results. They showed that Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino had won the presidency by a clear margin over his nearest opponent, ex-President and former movie star Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
But then a mysterious masked man known Koala Boy appeared in a video recording shown to congressmen, alleging widespread electronic electoral fraud. Now Estrada’s lawyer has said he will present evidence of fraud when congress meets to proclaim the new president. The whistleblower is called Koala Boy because the mask and hat he wore in the video made him look like the Australian marsupial. He has yet to be publicly identified.
Debate over Koala Boy's claims
He alleged that he and his accomplices had found ways round the safeguards in the computerized vote-counting system, and had sold tranches of electronically generated fake votes to some candidates, while reducing the tallies of others. In one case, he said, a candidate for national office paid 1.4 billion pesos ($30 million) for 7 million votes. The electorate numbers only 50 million.
Later, defeated candidates for national or local positions began giving testimony before a congressional committee that seems to corroborate Koala Boy’s story. All these candidates denied that they had accepted offers to sell votes, inviting the inference that the votes for sale went to other candidates that were less honest.
The official Commission on Elections (Comelec) was dismissive of Koala Boy’s allegations, pointing to the lack of supporting evidence.
“Those behind these controversies might want to cast doubt on the next president by shaking the people’s confidence in the elections,” said Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento.
But on Wednesday the lawyer for trailing presidential candidate Estrada’s party said he would give congress evidence that Estrada’s vote tally was shaved. Estrada was ousted from power during an impeachment trial in 2001 on corruption charges that delivered the presidency to his then vice president, Gloria Arroyo. Estrada was convicted of "plunder" in 2007 and was later pardoned by President Arroyo.
Investigation could result in Arroyo staying on as president
Nobody has accused the leading candidate, Aquino, of cheating. But he is concerned that arguments over fraud will prevent Congress from proclaiming him the winner before the June 30 deadline set by the constitution.
“We will have a problem if by June 30 no one is still proclaimed. A power vacuum is no joke,” Aquino said.
The Aquino camp, which is hostile to outgoing President Gloria Arroyo, warned before the elections of plots to sabotage the polling and create a power vacuum, which Arroyo might fill by staying on as president.
The computerized vote-counting was meant to shore up political stability by removing doubt about the legitimacy of elected governments. The Arroyo administration was beset by impeachment complaints and rumors of coup plots after she was accused of cheating in the 2004 election. She denies any wrongdoing.
The outgoing administration says it simply want a smooth handover to the new one.
“We must not allow chatter to tarnish our elections and turn our country into the Land of Fakes Believed,” said Arroyo spokesman Ricardo Saludo.