Rift mars work of poll monitor in ARMM

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/19 October) — Bickering among members and officers of a foreign-funded election watchdog in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) might prevent the group from monitoring the conduct of next Monday’s barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, sources inside the organization said.

The rift within the Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (Citizens CARE) reportedly started when Romie Guialel, Pendatun Pangadil, both from Maguindanao, and Musa Aming, from Tawi-Tawi, were expelled as members of the board of trustees in a meeting held in Zamboanga City on March 28.

Also on March 28, the board decided to suspend the coalition’s secretary-general, Arlene Aming. She was accused of insubordination, misleading the funders and other members of the group and plotting against the existing board to fulfill her personal interests.

In a resolution, the board said they decided to oust the three board members and Aming for allegedly refusing to abide by its decision to house the coalition’s new project to be funded by the European Union (EU) in Davao City to ensure the security of partners and beneficiaries.

On August 7, Salic Ibrahim, then Citizens CARE chair, citing as basis Special Order Number 01810 which merged the Provincial Management Committees (PMCs) of the defunct Shariff Kabunsuan province and Maguindanao, designated Sahid Ali to constitute the new board member for the new Maguindanao PMC.

On August 18, Ibrahim ordered Citizens CARE-IFES project secretariat to account and retrieve all Citizens CARE properties, papers, and records of the two former Maguindanao PMCs; provide secretariat support for the creation of a new Maguindanao PMC; and provide necessary equipment to the new PMC.

“With the rift going on, I am sad [that] our mission of effecting electoral reforms in this part of the country through election monitoring and voters education is put in jeopardy,” said Guialel, an original member and founding chairperson of the coalition.

He added other partner organizations of the Citizens CARE have decided to pull out and withdraw their support to the coalition. He, however, refused to identify the groups.

When asked, the four personnel of the Citizens CARE said they have not received any termination letter from their new chair, Jumda Saba-ani, also a project officer of the Muslimah Resource Development Center based in Jolo, Sulu.

In the general assembly on Sept. 14 in Iligan City, Citizens CARE elected Jumda Saba-ani of Jolo, Sulu as the new chair and Ibrahim as his co-chair. Also elected were Hanie Bud (secretary general), Thaiba Anwar (treasurer), and Ibrahim Abdulsamad (auditor). They compose the group’s executive committee.

Guialel said the rift has affected the personnel of Citizens CARE, who were surprised to see their office in Cotabato City secured with new padlocks when they reported on October 5.

He believed that the new members of the executive committee were the ones who padlocked the office.

Norodin Manalao, project director of Citizens CARE, said: “What’s happening right now with the Citizens CARE is a result of some misunderstandings, and at present, self-interest of some members of the group has prevailed.  Because of this, our monitoring of the October 25 elections would be affected. If there would be monitoring, we just don’t know how comprehensive it would be.”

On September 13, a day before the general assembly, former board members Guialel and Pangadil filed petition for injunction and prohibition with prayer for a temporary restraining order (TRO) at the Regional Trial Court in Cotabato City.

According to them, their expulsion [as board members] was illegal and resulted to great and irreparable damage and injury to them, and that there is no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy available, except the issuance of a TRO.

The next day, RTC Executive Judge Bansawan Ibrahim issued a 72-hour TRO and directed Citizens CARE chair Saba-ani and other members of the executive committee to refrain from enforcing the impugned resolutions.

Judge Ibrahim said that the petition filed by the petitioners was sufficient in form and substance and allowed facts entitling them to the relief demanded.

After the lapse of the TRO, the RTC ordered the respondents to answer the complaints filed against them within 15 days after they received the summons.

The first hearing of the case took place last October 13, court records showed.

Both Saba-ani and Ibrahim did not reply to text messages sent them.

Citizens CARE claims having 6,000 poll watch volunteers across the region. Since its creation in 2005, the group has monitored regional, local and national elections.

It is currently implementing the project Strengthening Electoral Process through Voters Education and Election Monitoring, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with technical assistance from the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES).

In a text message, an IFES staffer said they were keeping a hands-off stance and will allow the members and officers of Citizens CARE to settle the matter among themselves. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)