ARMM poll watchdog: cheats should be brought to court

In its report, the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Reforms (Citizens CARE), an electoral watchdog in the ARMM, confirmed reports that elections in the region last May 14 were marred with electoral fraud “and these irregularities were serious that, in some way, it tarnished the integrity of the electoral process in the region,” said Citizens’ CARE  chair Romie Guialel.

Guialel said they fielded at least 5,500 volunteers and watchers in 739 barangays in 68 towns in all six provinces of the ARMM, including the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, during the elections on May 14.

Among the irregularities they monitored and recorded during the elections included ballot box snatching, intimidations, vote buying, disenfranchisement of voters, and non-posting of the Computerized Voter Lists (CVL) in some precincts, and proliferation of campaign materials and other election propaganda in polling centers during the voting.

The group also noted that children were used to distribute campaign materials on election day and in some polling precincts, no indelible ink was applied to voters’ forefingers and many voters could not vote as someone had voted for them.

“Some ballot boxes were not padlocked and there was disorder or ‘chaos’ inside the polling precincts.   There was no secrecy of ballots in those precincts,” according to the report made public only today.

On June 6, the Commission on Elections declared a failure of elections in all 22 Maguindanao towns but this pronouncement was questioned on technical grounds. The Comelec on June 6 also summoned the municipal election officers and the proclaimed winners in Maguindanao to a hearing on June 11 but only Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol showed up to say the election documents which he was preparing to send to Manila for the recanvass were stolen on May 29.

The hearing was reset to Friday, June 15.

C-CARE also demanded a “total disclosure” of campaign spending of candidates in the ARMM  “so the people would know where the funds had come and how it was spent.”   

The group recommended that voters’ education should be intensified, especially in areas where vote buying and vote selling was rampant.

To prevent electoral fraud, the group proposed the setting up of a highly-computerized voting system, especially on the counting and canvassing of votes. 

C-CARE, which claims its mission is to serve as catalysts for electoral reforms, “is committed to continue and intensify its task of voter education, especially in far flung areas, and mobilize the public to get involved in the conduct of their elections,” said Guialel.

Guialel commended the “heroic” deeds of thousands of their volunteers that risked their lives just to monitor the elections in the region. 

The group has established partnership with at least 40 civil society organizations, people’s organizations, academe, civic groups, media and communication groups, including the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) throughout the region. 

“Given the situation of elections in the ARMM, I believe it is a significant achievement to be able to reach out and mobilize a great number of ARMM citizens willing to do their share in promoting clean and honest elections in their areas inasmuch as it was possible,” he concluded in his report.