Comelec Commissioner Sarmiento hailed the policemen, soldiers and election special action officers as "heroes" for making the May 26 special elections "generally peaceful." Prior to the polls, he was quoted in news reports that the “the Armed Forces of the Philippines will play the lead role, supported by the Philippine National , to ensure the smooth operations of the elections.”
Soldiers were assigned to secure the entrances of polling centers and canvassing sites and their presence, according to Goltiao, resulted to “very peaceful” elections based from the “standards of the province.”
“We are now more prepared because of the adequate security,” he said.
The military and police usually step in during commotions between supporters of political rivals. In Madalum town, for instance, C-Care reported that soldiers fired shots in the air to stop fighting among supporters of two political rivals figured in a fistfight before the polling precinct opened during the May 26 polls. Soldiers also fired shots outside the gate of the Marawi People’s Park to control unruly poll watchers.
But the heavy presence of the military and police drew mixed reactions from various groups. While many credited them for maintaining peace and order during the polls, some, however, observed their presence did not deter flying voters and vote-buying, according to Namfrel and C-Care.
Dalidig said the policemen and soldiers turned a blind eye on flying voters and minors casting votes in the polling precincts. "They are not exactly the heroes the Comelec wanted the public to believe," C-Care’s Salic Ibrahim said.
Police personnel also 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.
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 added that vote-buying is done right in front of the policemen and election special action officers.
Some soldiers and policemen, however, explained that 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,” a soldier told MindaNews.
But another watchdog group, the Ranao Watch for Good Governance had asked for the deployment of military as poll inspectors. Otherwise, they proposed that the ballots be brought to Cagayan de Oro City for counting which they believed to be the “only safe and neutral ground” for a “more credible” counting and canvassing of these votes from the Lanao del Sur areas.
“We cannot have it in Marawi City as these election saboteurs can easily reach us even in Iligan City, their clutches still extend to there. It should be here in Cagayan de Oro City as it is a neutral ground,” said the group’s secretary general Ibra Macapanton as quoted by SunStar Cagayan.
Macapanton, in the same report, claimed that many residents in the affected Lanao areas had expressed their frustration over a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Comelec and the Department of National Defense (DND). The MOA limited the participation of the military in the May 14, 2007 elections, he said.
The Case of Sultan Domalondong
The PNP men who served as BEIs in Sultan Dumalondong are “well-trained and experienced, and most of them are college graduates,” according to Supt. Alex Lineses, assigned to the PNP 15th Provincial Mobile Group and who headed the Sultan Dumalondong team.
This was the reason why, according to him, the tabulation and canvassing of votes for the town went on fast and smoothly.
Sultan Dumalondong, according to him, had been an election hotspot since 1998 when it first became a town, and ever since, there had always been a declaration of a failure of election due to the intense rivalry of two warring factions.
When they arrived the day before the May 26 polls, Lineses said they immediately met with the rival political candidates and, using “diplomacy,” discussed ways on how to minimize the tension and the conflict. “It prospered because not a single shot was fired. There was a meeting of the minds.”
Lineses put into good use skills he learned as a member of the United Nations police special force assigned to Liberia last year when it held its first presidential elections in 14 years. He just came back in March 2006 and was assigned to the PNP-ARMM Region XII based in Malabang, Lanao del Sur.
“We taught the local police in Liberia,” said Lineses who was one of only 134 PNP personnel who passed the competitive exams administered by the UN. (Froilan Gallardo and Charina Sanz Zarate/MindaNews) [Tomorrow: Patterns of Vote-buying and Forms of Cheating]