Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This was published in the July 21, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror, page A6.

No people is wholly civilized where a distinction is drawn between stealing an office and stealing a purse. –Theodore Roosevelt

The latest development in the election protest of Aquilino Pimentel III against Juan Miguel Zubiri brought me back to a jam-packed press conference held in Club Filipino five years ago. An indignant Susan Roces is telling Gloria Macapagal Arroyo: “”The gravest thing that you have done is that you have stolen the presidency NOT ONCE BUT TWICE!”

Zubiri’s victory in 2007, like Gloria Arroyo’s in 2004, came from cheating. Pimentel proved it beyond a shadow of doubt.

Numerous instances of fraud – fake ballots, empty ballot boxes, and ballots written by one (WBO) – were discovered when the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) revised the 664 “pilot precincts” designated by Pimentel.

The large-scale cheating perpetrated by warlords and Comelec operators bore all the marks of carelessness and stupidity, the by-products of a climate of impunity.

The fake ballots were a comedy of carelessness. Two municipalities in Maguindanao each had two sets of “official” ballots bearing different names. The municipality of Pagagawan had changed its name to Datu Montawal but the official Comelec ballots still bore the old name, Pagagawan, while the fake ballots were printed with the new name. In Datu Saudi Uy Ampatuan, Maguindanao the official Comelec ballots had Datu Saudi Ampatuan while the fake ballots carried the name Datu Saudi Uy Ampatuan.

The WBO ballots were an exercise in stupidity. In one precinct the surname of Team Unity senatorial candidate Mike Defensor was misspelled as Deffensor in ballot after ballot written by one person.

The empty ballot boxes brought the whole circus of carelessness and stupidity under one tent. In Sultan Kudarat, Shariff Kabunsuan 197 out of 198 ballot boxes were completely empty. The 198th contained 11 fake ballots (Source: www.pimentelprotest.ph).

Perhaps Zubiri did not orchestrate the cheating. Maybe he was sincere when, following his proclamation, he said, “I just want to thank the Lord above. Thank you. Mama Mary, thank you so much.”

On the other hand, it’s also possible, as many believe, that Zubiri was more than just the unwitting beneficiary of election theft. In which case the Lord he thanked would be a warlord and Mama Mary would be that warlord’s patroness and protector.

The Senate Electoral Tribunal’s (SET) revision of Pimentel’s 664 designated “pilot precincts” established that he beat Zubiri by more than 85,000 votes. The story should have ended with justice being served. But it did not.

Pimentel’s Senate seat was stolen for a second time when the majority of judges in the SET, five senators and two associate justices of the Supreme Court, went against its own Rule 79 and allowed Zubiri’s counter-protest to proceed despite the fact that he failed to prove the existence of fraud in at least 50 percent of his designated “pilot precincts.”

Three years ago Zubiri was profusely thanking the Lord above and Mama Mary for his “victory”. Today, he is thanking the SET for a resolution that says Pimentel might be a bigger cheat than he is.

“My deepest suspicions have come true. It seems that SET has uncovered the syndicates that operated in the cities and areas perceived to be opposition bailiwicks to enhance the candidacies of certain opposition members,” Zubiri told the press after he got wind of the SET resolution favoring his baseless counter-protest.

At this point you may be asking, where is the rule of law? Well, the rule of law is hidden in a little known SET rule that legalizes robbery in band. It’s called Rule 22.

“The SET shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of Members of the Senate. It shall promulgate rules to achieve just, expeditious and inexpensive determination and disposition of every contest brought before the Tribunal, HOWEVER, whenever a majority of its members feel the urge, they may, without any need for an explanation or justification, trash any or all of its rules.”

Zubiri will continue to illegally occupy Pimentel’s Senate seat. Cheating pays.