Sulu holds generally peaceful polls; fistfights replace gunfights

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/16 May) — With two incidents of armed harassment and zero incident of armed fight, election day was generally peaceful in Sulu, according to the Commission on Elections and the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Provincial Joint Security Control Center (JSCC) composed of the AFP and the Philippine National Police and chaired by the Comelec, reported that an armed partisan group opened fire at civilians with small arms and mortar shells in barangay Tulay, in the town of Panglima Estino. No casualties were reported in the incident, which authorities said was only meant to harass voters. A company of Scout Rangers pursued the perpetrators.

The second incident of armed harassment was in the town of Lugus on election day.

Atty. Vidzfar Julie, Comelec Election Supervisor of Sulu, described the incident in Lugus as “public partisan armed harassment” that was meant to disenfranchise voters. No casualty was reported.

The JSCC also moved to implement the gun ban in the province, apprehending one town councilor and three civilians carrying firearms on election day.

Major Enrico Ramones, representative of the AFP in the JSCC, identified the councilor as Naser Sappayani, 39, of Tapul town. He was caught with a .45 caliber pistol as he was entering Kalang Elementary School at 10 in the morning. Sappayani was turned over to PNP for proper disposition and filing of appropriate charges.

Ramones identified the three civilians as Romeo Sahiban, 40, Manan Dahi, 32, and Kalih Sahibal, 42, all residents of Larap village of Lugus town. They were apprehended by elements of the Philippine Navy during a search of small watercraft M/L Ruhilyn at 4 in the afternoon in the open seas of the town, eve of the elections. Confiscated during the search were two M1 Garand rifles, one .45 caliber pistol and various ammunitions. The suspects were turned over to the PNP.

The Task Force Kahanungan, a civil society initiative to monitor and prevent election-related violence in Sulu monitored five incidents of fist-fight among hot-headed relatives and supporters of local candidates in five municipalities, injuring 11 persons on election day.

“It appears that gun fighting was replaced with fist fighting” said Vandrazel Birowa, 29, manager of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue and a mover of Task Force Kahanungan.

“This is a definitely an improvement from the armed violence of the past elections,” said Birowa whose NGO is implementing a program for the reduction of armed violence in six of the 19 municipalities of Sulu.

Table 1:
Sulu Election-Related Violence Before and During Elections
As of May 13, 2010
Source: MindaNews Consolidation of AFP, PNP and AVRI Reports

Pre-Election Day During Election Day
Violation of Gun Ban 3 2
Armed Fight 3
Strafing/Armed Harassment/Assaults 1 2
Fist Fight 5
Killed 5
Wounded 3 11

The AFP sees the peaceful conduct of the elections in Sulu as a result also of the AFP’s efforts to improve its relationship with the Tausugs.

“This means that the security measures implemented by the AFP were effective,” said Western Mindanao Command Chief, Maj.Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino.

Dolorfino told MindaNews that unlike in past elections, “the AFP strictly played neutral role in the conduct of elections.”

Dolorfino said that the AFP participated in peacebuilding efforts of the civil society groups in Sulu and adopted the 20-80 approach, where 80 percent of the military’s efforts and resources is placed community development and relationship building and 20 percent on armed interventions.

The province of Sulu has 315,105 voting population, spread in 410 barangays (Jules L. Benitez with reports from Al-kamar A. Jidin, MindaNews)