Violence mars special polls in Lanao del Sur, “where election is business”

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / June 4) – A child died from stray bullets as armed followers of politicians in Lanao del Sur shot it out with rivals in a special election marred with violence and fraud.

The indiscriminate firing was only one of many cases of election-related violence and irregularities that was reported as widely occurring in the towns where political warlords are still in control.

The Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reform (Citizens CARE), a Commission on Election (Comelec)-accredited election watch group, did not identify the child victim, but siad the victim died on the spot when caught in the middle of indiscriminate firing by rival
political groups.

Salic Ibrahim, executive director of Maradeca Inc. and head of Citizen CARE, said indiscriminate firing was done by support groups of politicians in Sultan Domalondong and in Masiu towns.

“Although police and military manned the precincts, the tension was still high with indiscriminate firing to threaten voters,” Ibrahim said

“It was still different if the trained Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) would manage the election because the military and policemen lacked expertise in handling the election,” Ibrahim said.

The special election was conducted based on Comelec Resolution 8965 that mandated the special poll in two clustered precincts in barangay Buenos Aires, Pagsanghan, Western Samar; three in Glan, Sarangani; four in Brgy. Lower Mahayahay all in Maluso, Basilan; 20 in eight barangays in Al Barka, Basilan, and 190 in seven Lanao del Sur towns.

“Flying voters,” Vote-buying

Aside from violence, bringing in of “flying voters” and buying of votes were also reported, with the price of the votes reaching a high of between P10,000 to 15,000 per family, Ibrahim said. He added that vote-buying was rampant and was done a night before the election.

He also reported that there were supporters of national officials who gave P100 or P50 per voter.

Ibrahim said electoral watch groups complained of being turned away by soldiers guarding or managing the precincts “although the problem was remedied by dialogues.”

“We also observed that there were those who are actively doing smear campaign against Mar Roxas because of his position against Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).”

Earlier, Comelec officials said “results of special polls in Lanao del Sur will decide the winner of the congressional polls in the 2nd district of the province and other municipal officials.”

Ibrahim said the Comelec, civil society and the academe have to educate both voters and candidates to put a stop to  recurring electoral violence and fraud in the province.

“The Comelec should devote extra efforts to educate politicians who are filing their candidacies about election polices and how they should value the right of suffrage with decency and uprightness,” he said.

Election as business

“Electoral reform is not only the business civil society and Comelec but of politicians, too. Thus, those who are seeking for elective post must undertake seminars on electoral reform so that we can achieve desired change,” Ibrahim added.

With the failure of election in the May 10 elections, Lanao del Sur has not experienced a national election that was successfully conducted on the scheduled date. This province has also been accused of easily allowing itself to be one of the areas for widespread rigging of results, including the Hello-Garci controversy.

Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis, a  Maranao corporate leader and social activist, said “Lanao del Sur has a notorious propensity for hosting hotspots that tend to make elections a failure”.

“Losing candidates would strategize on ways to disrupt the possible entry and gains of the rival in the precincts by gun-fires in the air thereby scuttling away the voters. Vote-buying has become the rule, not the exception,” she said.

Tomawis said “flying-voters, who are non-residents of the town, have become the key to propelling victory for local candidates” as the political climate of the province doesn’t allow “political debates, just political transactions.”

“Special elections are the exemplars of a bastard practice of democracy,” she said.

Tomawis, a staunch supporter of vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda who conceded defeat, also said that “Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph discouraged losing Maranao candidates to stop filing protests in the office; accept defeat and invest in good work in the
next three years so that one can earn the people’s overwhelming favor as against a peso for a vote.”

She said that violent and fraudulent election in the province “is rooted on poverty, the lack of governance, absence of basic social services, lack of agricultural supports and dearth of sanitation structures”.

”Election here is business. Vote if you bid at the right rate. The ballot then becomes bought by the best bidder,” she said.

”It is sad. It is appalling. It would take a generation to cleanse the soul of this local mafia-driven democracy,” Tomawis said. (Violeta M. Gloria / MindaNews)