Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Poll body, watchdog gear up for voters education in Muslim communities outside ARMM

QUEZON CITY, Philippines - The Commission on Elections) and a citizen watchdog that is operating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao have started a voters’ education partnership program intended for Muslim voters who came from the ARMM, but are residing in Metro Manila and other areas outside of the region.

Amid calls to move the constitutionally-set voting in ARMM in August, the Education and Information Department of the Comelec and Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reform jointly conducted voters’ education on the continuing registration for the electorates coming from the autonomous region but are residing in Muslim communities in Culiat and Tandangsora areas in Quezon City.

Director James Jimenez, of the Comelec’s EID and Jumda Sabaani, chairperson of C-CARE, who were among the speakers in a forum Sunday attended by some 200 electorates, mostly Maguindanaon, Tausog and Maranao, took turns in stressing that “every citizen of the country can only register once.”

The emphasis was premised on a finding that many electorates registered in ARMM were also registered in the barangays where they have established residence in Metro Manila and other parts of the country. The Maguindanaons, Tausogs and Maranaos are natives of Maguindanao, Sulu and Lanao del Sur, which are all part of the five-province Muslim autonomous region.

In a phone interview, Sabaani relayed that her group and the Comelec explained to the electorates the election law that prohibits multiple registration. “If you are already registered in Metro Manila, you can no longer register in ARMM,” she said while explaining that the electoral office is continuously accepting registrants.

Sabaani said that with the assistance of Jimenez and Leo Lim, an information officer of the Comelec’s EID department, they explained the details of the continuing registration process by walking the electorates through the filling up of registration forms.

Culiat village chieftain Jaime Garcia, who welcomed the consultation participants, called upon the Muslim electorates in his village to “be responsible in exercising your right to suffrage,” emphasizing further “that your participation in a democratic exercise, such as election, is a manifestation of you freedom.”

Sabaani, a Tausog native, stressed to her fellow Islam believers “the need for us to register as a requisite for us to be able to exercise our right to suffrage.”

“It doesn’t really matter, as far as registration of voters is concern, whether elections in ARMM will push thru as scheduled in August or not,” the C-Care chair said even as she warned the public against dual or multiple registration.

“If you are registered in Culiat, you should no longer file a registration in ARMM, or, if you are already registered in ARMM, you should not register again in Culiat to prevent double registration, since this is against the law,” Sabaani said.

Jimenez said that the voters’ registration in ARMM will be held this coming March 21 to 31, while in all other areas nationwide will be on April 1 to October 31.

“The Comelec will begin its nationwide drive to inform the public on the upcoming voters’ registration. We urge them to be on the lookout for voter education activities that will be conducted in their areas,” he said.

Jimenez also urged the public to visit the Comelec’s website www.comelec.gov.ph and its Education and Information Department’s blog at www.comelec.wordpress.com for updates and related information.

He reported that the poll body has already activated the "COMELEC TV Channel YouTube" and can be accessed on this URL: http://www.youtube.com/user/comelectv), which features voter's education and information videos.

“It will also feature a web news program that will deliver a round-up of the most recent Comelec-related news as well as video-clips of Comelec field officials at work,” he said.

Jimenez said that the public forum for Muslim voters at the Salam Mosque Compound in Culiat, was in preparation for the 10-day voters registration.

Another forum will be conducted Monday at the Legislative Wing of the Quezon City Hall.

The postponement of ARMM polls is being pushed to give way to a synchronized election in 2013. It will also give the President a chance to appoint caretakers in those provinces. (Romy Elusfa)

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