Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reduced voting precincts eyed for Sulu province

MANILA - Philippine authorities are eyeing a clustered voting scheme in Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, in which the number of voting precincts will be reduced as a security measure to ensure peaceful and honest elections in May, reports said.

The Manila Times quoted Brigadier General Rustico Guerrero, commander of military forces in Sulu, as saying the 'cluster system' would allow voters in the province to cast their votes on designated polling precincts - around 70 of the 410 precincts - so as to ensure the safety of the electorate and maximize the number of deployed soldiers and policemen who are tasked to secure the elections.

Guerrero said that there are some 3,000 soldiers and policemen in Sulu while over 300,000 are expected to cast their votes for the local and national polls.

“We have asked the Commission on Elections to allow us to implement this clustering system because it will help us better secure the safety of the voters and the teachers despite our limited number,” Guerrero told reporters during the forum on Leadership Innovations in Public Service: Bridging Leadership Presentations organized by the Asian Institute of Management and Australian Embassy in Manila.

Guerrero said that clustering the precincts will make authorities perform their tasks more effectively.

“It will be hard if we all use the 410 precincts and we still have to be on alert for other continuing threats such as the Abu Sayyaf, lawless elements and other players that affect the elections, which are the politicians,” he said.

“We are also doing this [appeal for clustering] to avoid instances in the past wherein some voters cannot go to certain precincts because of security concerns brought by the rivalry among politicians. As such, we hope that the Comelec can approve our request a month before the elections,” he added.

The Abu Sayyaf is actively operating in Sulu province and had been blamed for the kidnapping last year of three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross - Italian Eugenio Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba - and the capture of broadcast journalist Ces Drilon in June 2008.

The ICRC workers were kidnapped after inspecting a water system project in Sulu. While Drilon and her cameramen and a guide were all abducted while on their way to interview Abu Sayyaf leaders. They were all freed after negotiators paid huge ransom to the kidnappers. (Llanesca Panti. The Mindanao Examiner contributed to this report.)

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