Cheating went on in Lanao despite troops, monitoring groups

Salic Ibrahim, Lanao del Sur coordinator for the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (C-Care) said the presence of hundreds of soldiers, policemen and election special action officers did not deter flying voters and vote-buying during the special elections for 13 towns in Lanao del Sur last May 26.

"They are not exactly the heroes the Comelec wanted the public to believe," Ibrahim said.

"This elections is far worse than the presidential elections in 2004," Hajji Abadulah Dalidig, head of the National Movement for Free Elections in Lanao del Sur, said.

Dalidig said the policemen, soldiers and election special action officers turned a blind eye on flying voters and minors in the polling precincts.

Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento hailed the policemen, soldiers and election special action officers as "heroes" for making the May 26 special elections "generally peaceful."

More than a thousand policemen and battle-ready soldiers were deployed by the Commission on Elections to the 13 Lanao del Sur towns on May 26.

Many of the policemen served as members of the municipal Board of Election Inspectors in Butig and Sultan Dumalundong towns where public school teachers refused to serve for fear of being caught in the intense feuds between candidates.

The Comelec also deployed election officers from nearby Misamis Occidental and Misamis Oriental provinces to replace local election officials to ensure impartiality.

Lily Datu, a C-Care volunteer said policemen who acted as BEI members allowed poll watchers to assist disabled and illiterate voters in the casting of their votes in Butig town last May 27.

"Often, the poll watchers gave these voters P100 or P500 to vote for their candidates," Datu said.

She said the vote-buying is done right in front of the policemen and election special action officers.

In contrast, Datu said the policemen and election special action officers did not allow her and other C-Care volunteers to loiter in the polling precincts.

In Madalum town, other C-Care volunteers reported that supporters of two political rivals figured in a fistfight before the polling precinct opened last May 26.

Raihanah Alawi, C-Care volunteer said the unruly supporters fought each other even as soldiers and policemen fired shots in the air to stop the fighting.

Norjanah Sultan, another C-Care said she saw minors voting in some precincts in Madalum town.

Comelec special action officer Roy Prule, who was assigned to supervise the elections in Butig town, said they could not do anything against the minors because the names were in the voters' list.

"We are not from here so we do not have intimate knowledge of the voters," said Prule, who is the regular election officer of Sinacaban town in Misamis occidental.

Some soldiers and policemen told MindaNews their mission was only to hold an "orderly and peaceful elections" not to catch vote-buyers.

"Besides, normal na iyan dito sa (that’s normal here in) Lanao del Sur," they said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)