Robredo: No extension in ARMM’s voter registration

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 June) – Register on July 9 to 18 or you lose your right to vote.

This was the message of Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo to officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on the last day of a two-day conference here Wednesday.

“The voter has to adjust to the process. If you do not want to adjust, don’t register,” Robredo told regional officials, provincial governors and  mayors from the ARMM’s 116 towns and two cities gathered for the ARMM LGU Convention on Local Governance.

It was the first time regional, provincial and local officials of the 22-year old ARMM, the region that has earned a reputation of being the country’s “cheating capital,” gathered for a convention.

Requests for extension of the registration beyond the ten-day period were proposed during the open forum but Robredo repeatedly said the voter must adjust to the process.

He said registration of voters in areas outside the five-province, two-city ARMM will even be suspended so the voters’ registration machines will be brought to the ARMM. “You’re being given special treatment,” he said.

Chief Supt. Mario Avenido, regional chief of the Philippine National Police in the ARMM, announced that there would be 928 voters’ registration machines that the Commission on Elections will use during the ten-day new voters’ listing in the region’s 2,490 barangays.

Robredo clustering of precincts would be resorted because the ratio is around 2.5 barangays to one machine.

He urged the mayors to help determine which barangays are to be clustered, to comment on clustering methods, and to make their sentiments known to the Comelec.

But one of the delegates stood up to recommend to Robredo that mayors should not be allowed to determine the clustering process. “To be fair,” he said, the process of selecting should be left to civil society and the police.

Robredo said he would consider the suggestion and ask the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to help determine which areas are to be clustered.

ARMM OIC Assemblyman Zia Adiong asked if  it would be possible, given that the ARMM elections are now synchronized with the national mid-term polls on May 13 next year,  to allow Overseas Filipino Workers from the ARMM to also vote for ARMM officials but Robredo said that while he raised a “very valid point,” absentee voting is only allowed for nationally elected officials.

The chair of the Regional Unification Commission raised the issue of ARMM voters temporarily residing in Metro Manila, Davao or Cebu and other areas outside of the ARMM,  to devise a way, “for the sake of convenience,” so they can register in the areas where they are presently based and not have to come home within the 10-day period, to register in their respective precincts.

But Robredo said “we don’t have the capacity to do that.”

“Yung nais bumoto, umuwi. Kung away mong umuwi, wag kang bumoto,” (Those who want to vote, come home. If you don’t want to come home, don’t vote),” he said, again emphasizing that the voter should adjust to the process.

The night before, when the provincial governors were reporting on the workshop outputs of their mayors, Robredo was asked a similar question on ARMM voters such as students and workers who are presently based outside the ARMM.

While acknowledging that some voters will be disenfranchised because they may not be able to register from July 9 to 18, Robredo cited operational problems attendant to the suggestion, including how to determine if the potential registrant, is, indeed, qualified.

He said students based outside their areas will likely register during the weekends.  “Imbes na ibili nyo ng boto, bigyan nyo na lang ng pamasahe” (Instead of buying votes, give them transport money [to register]), Robredo said in jest. It took a few seconds before some delegates understood what Robredo said and laughed with him.

Robredo did not repeat that statement in the forum on Wednesday morning.

Instead, he encouraged ARMM officials to urge their constituents to register early and not to think of extensions beyond July 18.

He also addressed fears of “flying registrants,” repeatedly saying  the Comelec is using biometrics for the registration and that  the new system can accommodate a data base of 50 million voters.

“If I register here, I cannot register in another area,” he said.

Robredo told reporters on June 19 that apart from “flying registrants,” the challenge is “making sure that the registrants are qualified voters” because “biometrics cannot clean up underage registrants, people who are not qualified.”

Robredo said checkpoints during the registration period will be manned by  police and soldiers who are not residents of the area.

Maj. Gen. Ray Ardo, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, said there would be a meeting of “all stakeholders next week on the preparations for the  registration of voters in his area of  jurisdiction.

Avenido reminded ARMM officials of the gun ban during the registration period. In Maguindanao, which is still under a State of Emergency following the  massacre of  58 persons in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009,  the gun ban has been in place since then.

A female mayor stood up to ask about elected officials who have no security escorts but  carry their own guns.  “I have a gun with me,” she said.

“Ma’am, kasama ka sa gun ban. Kaya humingi ka na lang ng security,” (Ma’am, you are included in the gun ban. So you better ask for security),” Robredo replied.

After the gun ban, he added, “pwede ka na uli magdala ng baril” (you can carry your gun again).

Robredo told MindaNews they are “looking at ten days prior” or June 29, for the start of the gun ban. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)