GMA-7 barred entry in Maguindanao capitol

Tima was waiting outside the main gate when MindaNews arrived at around 11:15 a.m.

Surrounded by armed men in camouflage uniform, a man in civilian clothes – black and beige batik shirt and sunshades — who claimed to be head of security but who refused to give his name, said no one was allowed, not even media as “Comelec (Commission on Elections) lang ang pwede” (only Comelec personnel are allowed).

Asked who issued the order, he said, “yung Comelec.”

“(Maguindanao Comelec supervisor Lintang) Bedol?” MindaNews asked. “Oo” (yes), he replied.

MindaNews asked if word could be sent to Bedol that there were journalists who were waiting outside who wanted to talk to him.

A tipster later informed MindaNews and GMA-7 that an ABS-CBN crew was inside the compound. Told about this, the “chief of security” declined to answer.

The main gate is where every person or vehicle entering or leaving the compound passes.

The “chief of security” later approached MindaNews and GMA-7 and said his men inside could not enter the area where the Comelec official was. “Busy silang lahat doon.” (They’re all busy there).

“Pero hindi ho naman kasi dapat bawal sa media na pumasok,” (But media is not supposed to be restricted entry),” MindaNews said.

“Wag nyo akong kausapin ng ganyan. Hindi ko rin alam. Basta ang sa amin lang ang binabantayan namin, gate.” (Don’t talk to me like that. I don’t know, too. What we are guarding is the gate), the “chief of security” said.

Reminded about the ABS-CBN crew inside and that it would be unfair if they were the only media allowed, he said he didn’t know.

A few minutes later, the chief of security approached MindaNews, handed a mobile phone and said his boss was on the phone.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the Comelec that didn’t want GMA-7 in. It was Engr. Norie Unas, provincial administrator, who was on the phone.

MindaNews immediately informed Unas that Raffy Tima of GMA-7 was also waiting outside the gate but he said GMA-7 couldn’t enter because “niloko na nila kami” (we were duped) by GMA-7.

MindaNews asked Unas to talk to Tima on the phone but he refused.

MindaNews explained media should not be restricted and GMA-7 should be allowed to enter but he said he’d bar MindaNews from entering, too. “Di naman po tama yan” (that’s not right), MindaNews replied. Unas repeated GMA-7 would not be allowed to enter.

Given the importance of the canvassing in an administration bailiwick especially since unconfirmed reports had already filtered in that the administration’s Team Unity won 12-0 in Maguindanao, MindaNews and GMA-7 reporters agreed to have MindaNews enter the compound to see what was happening and to also try to convince Unas to allow GMA-7 in.

Inside his office on the third floor of the still-to-be-inaugurated capitol, MindaNews immediately told Unas about Tima waiting outside the gate.

Unas said Tima cannot be allowed in because he represents GMA-7. He explained that they assisted in every way the GMA-7 public affairs show’s team of GMA-7 a few years ago but what came out, he said, “was about this ambush me.’

When Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan first won as governor in 2001, he was ambushed at the bridge upon entering Cotabato City from the provincial capitol then situated in Sultan Kudarat town. His critics said it was an “ambush me” incident intended to justify the transfer of the provincial capitol to his hometown here. The capitol was built soon after and painted white. That is now the municipal hall of Shariff Aguak.

The public affairs show had since transferred to another station.

Told that Tima had nothing to do with the public affairs show he was complaining against years ago and that GMA-7 and media groups would definitely complain, Unas said he didn’t care. “Masaya na kami rito. (We’re happy here). Leave us alone…. Let them (GMA-7) get secondary sources.”

Maguindanao delivered a 12-0 vote in favor of the administration’s Team Unity, initial results from 815 of 1,115 precincts as of May 16 noon showed.

The provincial board of canvassers was in recess when MindaNews went to the legislative hall on the second floor after the talk with Unas but PBC chair Bedol announced the resumption of the session as soon as a ballot box containing the certificates of canvass arrived from Talitay.

Only he, his vice chair, the PBC member and the Comelec staff and some members of the Sanggunian were present.

There were no watchers or lawyers representing the candidates. The local posts in 20 out of 22 towns were unopposed along with the provincial slate so that may explain the absence of lawyers. But there were no lawyers either from the Genuine Opposition and party-list groups when Bedol announced the resumption.

Talitay has 4,121 registered voters. The remaining four towns the PBC was waiting for were Shariff Aguak, where the provincial capitol and provincial board of canvassers are located, also the vote-richest among the towns with 27,386 registered voters; Buluan with 10,118; Mangudadatu with 4,683 and South Upi with 12,272. The five towns have a total of 58,580 voters.