Sunday, June 06, 2010

Peaceful elections in Lanao, is it?

Scenes from special elections held June 3, 2010 in Lanao del Sur, one of five provinces in the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao. (Photos courtesy of Healing Democracy)

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 6, 2010) – While the Commission on Elections declared that the special elections conducted in Lanao del Sur on June 3 was generally peaceful, a local monitoring watchdog based in Marawi City, the Healing Democracy, said it was not.

“The presence of more than 100 military men and the use of police trainees as board or election inspectors did not deter the rampant vote buying and election-related violence in Lanao del Sur and may have possibly disenfranchised a number of voters,” Pastor Beltran Pacatang, project manager of the Healing Democracy, said in a statement.

Healing Democracy is an interfaith group which monitored elections in Lanao del Sur.

The group said it received reports that around mid-afternoon on June 3, shots were still fired by a group to scare away voters in the village of Inindigan in the municipality of Sultan Domalondong. Additionally, reports included shots from an M-203 and a sub-machine gun in Bacayawan also in Sultan Domalondong. Gunfire were also heard in Lumba Bayabao and armed men had been spotted near Bayang and Tuburan.

In Masiu, volunteers said that at around 2 p.m. the group of congressional candidate Salic Dumarpa clashed with the group of his closest rival Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman in the polling precinct situated in the unfinished gymnasium inside the municipal hall

The police and military helped stopped the fight but decided to escort the supporters of Dumarpa outside of the municipal hall.

In May 10, the Comelec declared Masiu as failure of elections because Comelec officials and the BEI’s did not go to the polling precinct. Earlier, Dumarpa filed a complaint against the Comelec’s decision to cluster polling areas in Masiu which concentrated all voting precincts inside the municipal hall compound. In the special elections, Macadaag
Elementary school was added as another polling place.

Pacatang added that the military presence may have influenced the outcome of the votes in each municipality and may tend to favor the incumbent officials of the municipality.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines deployed 100 soldiers in each of the seven municipalities to serve as security for the special election on top of additional helicopters, armored personnel carriers and naval gunboats docked at Lake Lanao.

But the strict management of the military was criticized by the Healing Democracy group as having disenfranchised many voters. In the municipality of Tuburan, some of the precincts closed at already 2 a.m. on June 4. And yet, there was still a long line of voters outside.

“The voters were checked twice – at the gate and again at the precinct. So the process was slowed down further. This was the price we had to pay for a little semblance of order. They were able to confiscate only handguns – a joke compared to the high-caliber weapons private armies of politicians have here,” Pacatang said.

Healing Democracy spokesperson, Adelaida Ditucalan, however was more concerned of the repercussions of the military control of the elections. “They say that the special election here is more peaceful now,” she said. “It could be as the basis for the forthcoming barangay and Muslim autonomous region elections to be handled by the military as well. And they could be used to manipulate election outcomes, as if we don’t have enough of these manipulations.”

Special elections were conducted in the towns of Sultan Dumalondong, Lumba Bayabao, Masiu, Tubaran, Lumbaca Unayan, Marogong and Bayang on June 3. No special elections have been ordered yet in the other 23 villages in the province that declared partial failure of elections.

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