MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 12 March) – Electoral candidates in Lanao del Sur and this city signed on Monday a covenant to end violence and political machination that made the area as the “cheating capital of the country.”
The signing at the Noramis Convention Center here was witnessed by multisectoral groups, election officials, military, police, and other authorities from all over Lanao del Sur and Marawi.
With a Qur’an laid on the table, candidates who signed the agreement on paper and on mounted tarpaulins vowed to uphold the right of the people to vote freely; not to tolerate their respective supporters to do vote-buying, use threats, employ violence, or stop voters to exercise their right to suffrage.
They agreed “that the right to suffrage is a sacred right.”
The covenant mentioned that they agreed to be accountable to their respective bodyguards and supporters who violate Comelec Resolutions 9561-A and 9608, policies that regulate the carrying and transporting of deadly weapons and about the employment of bodyguards during election.
They also agreed to join candidates’ forums that will be initiated by non-partisan groups.
During the gathering, rival candidates shook hands and hugged each other, and engaging themselves in open conversation.
For instance, Marawi Mayor Pre Salic was seen hugging Prof. Pundama Sani, his rival for the mayoralty post. The six rival congressional candidates for the first and second districts were seen raising each other’s hand.
Lawyer Ramon Casiple, head of the Consortium of Electoral Reform (CER) and one of the conveners, said “this covenant signing is to advance electoral reform and to end election violence and warlordism that is an offshoot of dynastic politics and situations.”
“We hope to remove the tag that Lanao is a cheating capital every election and we must work to build a system that will not repeat the Maguindanao massacre,” Casiple said.
“Democratic election should be peaceful. It cannot be democratic when it’s unpeaceful, hence winning should not depend on money, threats and terrorism,” he explained.
“We also ask civil society to support to make this election peaceful and to take part in making significant history in Lanao del Sur,” he added.
Like the candidates, civil society in the province composed of non-government organizations, the local media and amateur radio network, signed a declaration “for peace, free and fair 2013 elections.”
In a one-page declaration, they pledged “to actively participate in voters’ education and conduct monitoring, including the Comelec and LGUs administering the election; observe political groups, aspirants and supporters if they are in compliance to electoral laws; and engage media and social media for responsible reportage.”
“This election come May is our opportunity to prove to the nation that Lanao del Sur and Marawi City is not the cheating capital of the country,” said lawyer Ray Sumalipao, regional director of the Commission on Election in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“Our main enemy during election is the declaration of failure election,” he said. “This time, we should be putting this in our minds that nobody is authorized to declare failure of election,” said Sumalipao.
He said he is aiming for a zero failure of election in Marawi and Lanao del Sur.
“To demonstrate that we are true to our commitment, there are already three Comelec officers that were dismissed from service for failing to conduct their functions fully. One from Maguindanao and two from Lanao del Sur,” Sumalipao said, but did not mentioned names.
He said that Comelec officials in ARMM asked the Comelec en banc to mandate police officers from other regions to replace board of election inspectors (BEIs) who will suddenly disappear from their posts.
“We also wanted to declog election cases, hence, provincial election supervisors are already designated to decide on cases relating to violations of election rules,” Sumalipao said, adding that the problems pertaining to clustering can be resolved by checking the lists available online.
Sumalipao also said that two task forces composed of Comelec officers, personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will roam all over the province to monitor the electoral process and to respond to problems immediately.
Brig. Gen. Danilo Lucero, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade based in Marawi City, stressed that the military was able to help in the deletion of 172,000 double registrants in the province and 34,000 in Marawi.
He urged everyone that with this “beginning,” Lanao del Sur and Marawi could become models as far as elections are concerned. He urged everyone to change mindsets and work towards “an election that truly reflects the voice of the people.”
“Let this election be not a reflection of our guns, goons and money but instead an activity that reflect election as a sacred exercise of people’s voices,” Lucero said.
He told MindaNews that identified hotspot areas in Lanao del Sur are Marawi, Butig, Kapai, Tugaya and Marantao.
“Threats here are private partisan groups and the victims of the Coco financial scam because they’d be possibly be selling their votes for financial consideration,” Lucero said, referring to Jacob “Coco” Rasuman, who was arrested for allegedly defrauding many in a controversial pyramiding scam.
Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac, police provincial director of Lanao del Sur, said they have already organized Oplan Safe and Fair Election to prevent possible violence that may erupt in the traditionally hotspot areas of ARMM – Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan.
He said that they are closely coordinating with the AFP to end election violence. (Violeta M. Gloria / MindaNews)