Fearing for their lives, election officers in Lanao Sur town pull out

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews/11 July) – Fearing for their lives, the entire team of election officers assigned in the municipality of Butig in Lanao del Sur pulled out dawn Wednesday after unruly supporters of warring local politicians fired shots in the air and fought each other at the town market.

The election officers, mostly from Negros Occidental, arrived at the headquarters of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade at Kampo Ranao here around 6 a.m. Wednesday, tired, cold and sleepless.

Gandawali Rasuman, election officer in Butig, said the fighting among the local supporters traumatized the election officers, many of whom were first-timers in election duty in Lanao del Sur where gunfights and fisticuffs are common fare during any election exercise.

“The women especially were affected because all of them were first timers. They could not sleep. I decided to go along with them when I saw many of them were trembling out of fear,” Rasuman said.

He said the election officers was brought to Kampo Ranao aboard an Army M35 truck starting at 4:30 a.m.

Roberto Remollano, one of the election officers, said the indiscriminate firing and fighting in Butig took place Tuesday afternoon at the town market where he and others have set up a registration center.

Remollano narrated that a brawl took place among the supporters of opposing camps. Several minutes later shots were fired in the air.

“I counted four shots that were fired. We just ducked under the tables for cover,” he recalled.

He said local police and a special unit from Region 10 did not even bother to pacify or arrest the suspects.

“They just stood there as if nothing happened. The policemen are definitely very partisan to the local politicians,” Remollano said.

He said it was the Army soldiers who brought them back to safety in the Butig town hall where the rest of their team were quartered.

Later Tuesday night, Remollano said the group met in a huddle and decided that their lives were in danger if they continue processing the registration. They decided to leave early in the morning, he said.

“We do not want to go back anymore. We can process the registration of residents here in Marawi City because many of them expressed that they live here and only go to Butig to vote,” Remollano said.

According to Rasuman, Remollano and the election officers have so far processed less than 2,000 applications since the re-registration started last Monday. He said Butig has 11,277 voters in its old voters’ list.

The Commission on Elections has enlisted hundreds of election officers from Negros Occidental, Caraga and Northern Mindanao to help in the re-registration of voters in Lanao del Sur and the rest of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Meanwhile, a crackdown on passenger jeeps and vans suspected of ferrying fictitious registrants netted 11 more vehicles at the Army checkpoint in Barangay Pawak, Saguiaran town in Lanao del Sur Tuesday.

This brought to a total of 30 vehicles that were stopped and checked for their papers since the Amy tightened its checkpoint in Barangay Pawak, according to Col. Dario Bucawit, commander of the 64th Infantry Battalion.

But all of the vehicles were released soon after they were inspected by the soldiers, except for an Armak jeep with a green plate number VBN-341. “We cannot arrest them despite being deputized by the LTO. All we can do is check if they have proper papers,” Bucawit said.

He said the Armak jeep was detained after it was found that its driver has no license to drive and the vehicle carried green plates intended for private use only, instead of yellow plates for public utility vehicles. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)