With Palace efforts to get testimony on alleged election fraud from accused Maguindanao massacre conspirator Zaldy Ampatuan and former Commission on Elections officials Virgilio Garcillano and Lintang Bedol, people are again debating who won the 2004 presidential elections. This despite fraud allegations being unproven and perhaps involving too few votes to change the outcome. Thus, Filipinos again demonstrate the adage that in this country, no candidate loses elections, but rather every loser is cheated.
Predictably, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, election lawyer of defeated candidate Fernando Poe Jr., has asserted that FPJ won. So has a new video presentation unveiled by Senator Chiz Escudero and uploaded on the YouTube website. Atty. Raul Lambino, legal spokesperson of former president and incumbent Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, maintains that GMA won the presidency fair and square in 2004.
This article reviews verified and uncontested events and data on the 2004 presidential polls, to give factual basis to any reassessment of the voting, counting and canvassing seven years ago. Readers are urged to weigh the information on its own merit, rather than dismissing it just because of this writer’s post in the past government.
Any objective and fair review of the 2004 presidential results must necessarily take account of the data here, which were collated from impartial media reports. Then those reassessing the 2004 elections must ascertain for themselves whether claims and evidence of fraud involving a tiny fraction of the votes cast, would be enough to reverse the collective verdict of more than 30 million Filipinos.
The Candidates. Both Arroyo and Poe were formidable candidates with strengths that put them way ahead of their other rivals. GMA was senator in 1992, topnotcher in the 1995 senatorial race, and landslide winner in the 1998 vice-presidential race, with more votes than then-presidential victor Joseph Estrada.
After three and a half years in Malacañang, then-President Arroyo also wielded unmatched nationwide political backing. The dominant Lakas-led coalition was behind her, as were most governors, mayors and legislators. And she enjoyed the equity of the incumbent, gaining support from beneficiaries of state programs.
What FPJ, the country’s most popular action film star in the 20th century, lacked in political experience and clout he made up for with his irresistible mass appeal, untarnished by corruption allegations and political compromises. Backing him was the major opposition grouping under his lifelong friend, ex-president Erap, and former Senate president Edgardo Angara. Poe’s tandem with then-Senator Loren Legarda offset the media and masa clout of Arroyo’s popular broadcaster running mate Noli de Castro.
The Campaign. The two camps adopted predictable strategies. Arroyo highlighted her achievements and vision for the nation, along with her governmental and economic knowledge. Poe’s messages harped on the widespread hardship in the land and unsavory allegations against the administration, while projecting him as the hope of the poor.
Poe shot ahead early in the surveys (see SWS and Pulse Asia, Table 1), but the movie star’s reluctance to speak at length about national issues and his program of government raised concerns about his readiness for the presidency. A few spats with reporters further alienated some media, while a legal battle over his citizenship slowed his drive for political and funding support.
Meanwhile, the incumbent steadily climbed the survey rankings, as her governance message and accelerated programs persuaded more and more voters to go for Gloria. The tragic illness of the late Raul Roco, who had to leave his campaign to seek treatment in the U.S., shifted more of the affluent and the educated to the GMA fold.
Then in the final weeks before elections, two mammoth religious groups, the Catholic El Shaddai and the Iglesia Ni Cristo, threw their vote-rich congregations behind Arroyo. In the last two pre-election voter surveys, she led Poe by a statistically significant 6-7 percentage points, as tabulated by the leading polling groups, Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia. If extrapolated based on the total number of eligible voters, GMA’s survey leads amounted to more than 2 million votes.
The Voting.With 50,672 candidates vying for 17,717 positions and the nods of 43,551,281 eligible voters in 216,725 precincts, the polls on May 10, 2004, were bound to be fractious, messy, and in many places, fraudulent and violent.
On the whole, however, the voting on the second Monday of May 2004 was deemed little different from past elections in terms of irregularities, confusion and bloodshed, as gauged by most seasoned poll watchers, reputable watchdog organizations like the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), major religious groups, and some 100 foreign observers.
The 322 violent incidents counted by the Institute for Popular Democracy from campaign to canvassing were exceeded only by the 405 clashes in 1986. But the 77 deaths recorded were the fewest in two decades.
Namfrel estimated possibly more than a million people not able to vote due to mistakes in the new computerized voters’ lists in many precincts. But the election watchdog group and other independent observers did not see this or any other problem as major enough to materially affect the contests for national positions.
The Results. On May 22, 2004, twelve days after the polls, the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections declared: “The results of the elections are credible and reflect the vote of the people. We did not see enough electoral anomalies at the national level to have a material effect on the national results.”
Ten days later, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) reported: “There were some instances of cheating and violations of election law by political parties in their areas, but these did not affect the voting in general.” A year later, amid the ‘Garci’ tapes controversy in mid-2005, the CBCP affirmed its post-election assessment, which was based on reports from thousands of parishes nationwide: “It is the view of the bishops that the results of the elections reflected the will of the Filipino people.”
Notably, the outcomes of pre-election surveys, exit polls, and the Namfrel, Comelec and official Congress canvassing were consistent. Arroyo topped all these tallies by substantial margins. As she did in the last few surveys before May 10, GMA led FPJ in the four exit polls conducted by leading broadcast stations (see Table 2):
Arroyo eventually garnered 40% of the vote in the Congress tally, not far from her percentages in nearly all surveys, exit polls, and Namfrel’s quick count. Indeed, the Congress and Namfrel ratios of votes won by the five top candidates were nearly identical, with differences of less than one percentage point between the percentages garnered by each candidate in Congress and Namfrel counts (see Table 3).
The ratios matched even if they were based on completely different source documents: 176 certificates of canvass (CoCs), tabulated by city, provincial, and special election canvassers, for the Congress count; and about 180,000 precinct-level election returns (ERs) in the Namfrel count.
These completely separate tabulations were done precisely to uncover any huge fraud or error. If there were significant variations between the congressional and citizens’ counts, then there might have been reason to suspect massive cheating.
In the 1986 snap elections, the great disparity between Comelec and Namfrel tallies alerted the nation to massive fraud. Indeed, while Marcos won in the official count at the Batasan, Corazon Aquino beat him in the citizens’ tabulation at the watchdog group’s operations center in La Salle Greenhills (where her winning tally board is still preserved).
In 2004, however, the Congress and Namfrel outcomes showed near-identical voting percentages for all presidential candidates, with Gloria Arroyo winning in both tallies.
(This article and the conclusion that will come out tomorrow appeared in The Manila Times in three parts on July 25, 27 and 29, 2011.)
Ricardo Saludo heads the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (firstname.lastname@example.org), publishing The CenSEI Report, which provides analytic research on national, business and global issues.