PAGATIN, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao (MindaNews/10 May) – Despite delays and reports of explosion, voting in Maguindanao today was “generally peaceful with isolated and confined violent incidents at few expected traditional contested areas,” Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, Assistant Division Chief and head of Task Force HOPE (Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Elections), said.
On the first hour of May 10, at 1:15 a.m. at the poblacion in Ampatuan town, a squad from the Army’s 46th IB was subjected to two rounds of 60 mm mortar fire by an undetermined number of “ALG” (armed lawless group). A 30-minute firefight ensued, reports reaching the Joint Security Coordinating Center (JSCC) based at the Provincial Capitol in Shariff Aguak, said.
The opening of voting precincts was delayed in most of the province’s 36 towns. At the Datu Unsay Central Elementary School, voting began at 8 a.m. Erzelita Florcano, chair of the Board of Election Inspectors, told MindaNews bringing the BEI members to their assigned schools took some time.
The BEI members were escorted by the military.
In the 2008 automated polls for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, majority of the voters were ferried to the voting precincts. In Monday’s polls, voters were also ferried in trucks, tricycles and jeepneys. Food was, as in 2008, easily available. At the Tuka Elementary School in Mamasapano, a room beside the voting precincts was used for distribution of packed lunch.
It is the first election in nine years without the Ampatuan patriarch and his politician-sons. They are presently detained in Bicutan, facing multiple murder charges for the massacre of at least 58 pesons, 32 of them from the media.
At the Shariff Aguak Central Elementary School, Precinct 1A lost its celebrity voters – Voter er number 19 — Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr.—and voter number 40 – Datu Zaldy Ampatuan.
At 10 a.m. two rounds of 40 mm grenade launcher exploded 500 meters from the two voting precincts in Barangay Magaslong, Datu Piang, reports reaching the JSCC said. The explosion caused panic and triggered evacuation among voters.
At 10:40 a.m., a fragmentation grenade lobbed by unidentified man at the back of Poblacion Paglat polling precinct. The grenade did not explode but caused panic among voters and members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), forcing them to suspend the voting in the meantime.
Military and police security personnel cordoned area while waiting for the Explosives and Ordnance Team to retrieve the grenade.
At 11:22 a.m. the 29th IB platoon encountered more or less 100 “armed lawless group” while providing security to the polling place in Barangay Pagatin, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao. The firebase in Dapiawan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao fired two rounds of 81 mm mortar towards the armed men. The firefight reportedly lasted an hour and 30 minutes before the armed men “withdrew heading west.”
Datumama, a poll watcher from Barangay Butilen, told MindaNews voting stopped because of the firing. Voting, however, resumed in the afternoon.
At 11:50 a.m., armed supporters of vice mayoralty candidates Bhernie Amolintao Bagundang and Muslimin Guiama Baliwang exchanged fire using assorted firearms at the voting precinct in Barangay Kapimpilan, North Kabuntalan , Maguindanao. Two civilians were killed one of them a certain Lano, ex barangay chair of Barangay Kapimpilan, North Kabuntalan, and a supporter of mayoralty candidate Abutazil Zainudin. Voting was temporarily stopped.
The firefight in Pagatin also stopped voting in the nearby barangays of Butilen , Pandi and Sambolawan, said Datumama, a precinct watcher. It resumed after 2 p.m.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was initially tagged as the culprit but the rebel front denied the allegations.
The government and MILF peace panels’ ceasefire committees signed on April 23 in Cotabato City “Guidelines for Mutual Understanding between the Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for Ceasefire-Related functions for the May 10, 2010 National Elections” that would be implemented for the period May 3 to 13.
The four-page document, signed by Maj. Gen. Reynaldo Sealana, CCCH chair, government peace panel and Toks Ebahim, CCCH chair of the MILF peace panel, as witnessed by Maj. Gen. Datuk Baharom Bin Hamzah, head of mission of the International Monitoring Team.
Section 10 provides that the BIAF (Bangsmaoro Islamic Armed Forces)-MILF elements “should not go near polling centers and avoide displaying firearms along routes leading to the areas where electoral activities are ongoing.”
Task Force HOPE’s Bernardo said the MILF had been adhering to the April 23 guidelines “largely and extensively.”
“We appeal that we avoid blaming the MILF because there are other parties out to sabotage and effect no or failure of elections,” a member of the MILF CCCH told MindaNews.
His counterpart in the government CCCH told MindaNews that the incident in Pagatin was “political due to disqualification of candidates in Maguindanao.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)