ARMM poll watchdog assesses Oct. 29 barangay/SK polls

At a convention held in Lantaka Hotel in Zamboanga City, the group noted that though the poll exercises were non-partisan or 'apolitical,' many local chief executives from different towns in the region interfered during the campaign period.

There were those who actually engaged in convincing or 'buying out' candidates to withdraw their candidates.

This was the reason, the group said, why many positions in most villages in the region were unopposed.

"It is believed that the politicians were motivated by their desire to gain political control over the barangay leaders in view of the upcoming 2008 ARMM election and 2010 Presidential Election," the group said in its press statement it issued Wednesday.

In areas where barangay officials' term of office ended this year, many of their nearest kin ran during the elections.

Their candidacies, however, have to pass through approval from the governor, vice-governor, or from their chief executives, it stressed.

"Because of this, many qualified candidates who wanted to serve the community were not given an opportunity to run for the post," it said.

The group also monitored that many candidates who ran for SK were sons and daughters of municipal and local officials.

But Citizens' CARE chair Salik Ibrahim said what they also noted was the strong spirit of volunteerism during the elections. He said there were at least 2,300 volunteers all over the region who helped in the monitoring.

The volunteers, he explained, were fielded in  710 barangays in 59 municipalities in all six provinces of the ARMM, including the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, Isabela and newly created Lamitan City in Basilan.

The group has established partnerships with more than 30 civil society organizations, people's organizations, academe, civic groups, and communication groups, including the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), throughout the ARMM.

"Given the particular situation of elections here 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," he said.

Also, despite possibilities of threats and intimidations, the volunteers still managed to be at their assigned polling stations to watch the polls.

"The volunteers' efforts can be considered truly heroic." Ibrahim said.

"In order to achieve our mission of serving as a catalyst for electoral reforms, our group is committed to continue and intensify its task of voters education, especially in far flung areas, and mobilize the public to get involved in the conduct of their elections," Ibrahim explained.

The latest activity of the group was part of the project entitled, "Strengthening the Electoral Process through Voter Education and Election Monitoring in the ARMM.

The International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES), a USAID-funded institution, has been providing technical assistance and capacity-building through training-workshops to members of the Citizens' CARE.