COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 20 Feb) – Though the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has long been known for election violence and cheating, the current top political rivals have vowed to change the image.
On Tuesday morning, Maguindanao incumbent Governor Esmael “ Toto” Mangudadatu of Liberal Party and his challenger Sultan Kudarat Mayor Datu Tucao Mastura of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) led other ARMM politicians in signing a covenant here.
They actually already agreed on it when they earlier met in Sultan Kudarat town during President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s visit during the launching of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro with key officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last week.
Despite the peaceful activity, the Special Actions Force (SAF) the and Special Weapons and Assault Team (SWAT) of the Philippine National Police and some contingents from the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and Philippine Marines were deployed in this city.
The city’s Quezon Avenue was closed for hours as hundreds of supporters and allies of rival camps flooded El Manuel Hotel in this city with their vehicles, many of these luxury cars owned by local politicians.
But unlike the previous elections in Maguindanao where heavily armed bodyguards of politicians joined the convoys, this time around it was a different atmosphere.
Many locals were surprised when Mangudadatu and Mastura earlier showed peaceful gestures, hugged, sat together and spent time to talk personal and political matters, despite some perceived propaganda war on air.
During Tuesday’s event, they sat once again, now with their running mates, and shook hands. They signed the covenant in front of dozens of cameras flashing, witnessed by election watchdogs and journalists.
Mastura was the first to give his message, where he cited the activity as part of a spiritual awakening.
Mangudadatu signified his intent of peaceful election. But instead of giving a long speech, he led an Islamic prayer, asking for the guidance of the Almighty of everybody’s quest for peaceful elections.
All parties also signed in the tarpaulin where a huge copy of the covenant agreement was posted.
The covenant aimed for a “secured and free elections” in May.
Particularly cited was the commitment of all parties not to use firearms, to prohibit their supporters to coerce or threaten voters, not to engage in vote buying, avoid irresponsible propaganda strategies and to attend organized candidates’ forums.
It was also highlighted in the covenant that they will accept the result of the elections and will not block nor delay proclamation of the winning candidates.
The event was organized by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), the military and the police, the Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER), and local poll watch groups.
Four of six candidates for ARMM governor came and signed the covenant – former Sultan Kudarat Governor and Representative Pax Mangudadatu, former Agrarian Reform regional director Yusoph Buyog Mama, Elsie Orejudos and Aishah Prudencio.
The two other aspirants – OIC-governor Mujiv Hataman and former ARMM governor and MNLF chairman Nur Misuari – were represented in the ceremonies.
Regional vice-gubernatorial candidate Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman, Hatman’s running mate, said the caretaker governor tried to come to the event coming from a major program launching in the island provinces of ARMM but failed to arrive due to the bad weather brought by tropical depression Crising. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)