Harassment, delays mar relisting of ARMM voters

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/09 July) – Pockets of harassment and delays marred the opening of the general re-listing of voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Monday, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.
Comelec spokesperson James Arthur B. Jimenez however said the overall registration in the region, which will run until July 18, “generally opened on time.”
“Turnout of registrants is high and we can meet the capacity of our machines per day which is 200 persons,” he said.

He added that big waves prevented them from delivering the voting registration machines to the municipalities of Mapun and Turtle Islands, all located in the island-province of Tawi-Tawi.

Top Comelec officials, including Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes Jr., also flew to Tawi-Tawi on Monday to personally oversee the registration there.

In addition, Jimenez said three registration centers in Lanao del Sur have suffered delays due to lack of electricity in the area.

“We have more than 300 generating sets for Lanao del Sur. More than half are already for deployment,” he said.

For the meantime, registrants were asked to manually fill up their application and wait for the arrival of the generator sets to run the registration machines.

Jimenez said they also received reports of harassment against their personnel in Maguindanao by an unidentified group on Sunday evening.

“We are trying to establish the identification of the group who harassed our personnel whether they are from the politicians or just plain bandits,” he said.

According to Jimenez, the registration officials were “told to leave” and were asked to drop themselves on the floor before the culprits turned off the electricity.

“There was no physical harm,” he said, adding “those registration officials have returned today.”

Harassment was also reported by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, who said that one of their volunteers in Maguindanao was mauled.

“Let us pray and support the new protectors and heroes of the people’s suffrage for duty for God and Country,” the group said in their Facebook account.

The registration in ARMM was aimed at purging the voters’ list in the region, which the Comelec described as bloated and inaccurate.

“There’s a commitment to clean the election in ARMM,” Jimenez said.

The national government has earlier agreed to weed out double registrants, said to be the cause of widespread fraud during elections.

ARMM figured in an alleged massive poll cheating during the 2007 midterm elections in favor of the candidates of the previous administration.
The Comelec said they discovered some 300,000 multiple registrants in the area, mostly listed in far-flung precincts in towns where political rivalry is intense.

The poll body said they expect the number of registrants to reduce to around 1.2-million from 1,778,817 million voters as of April 8, 2011.

Jimenez said the poll body has come up with the scheme to accommodate only certain villages per day to control the number of people who would come to register.

The Comelec has deployed 1, 118 Voting Registration Machines in registration centers across Mindanao. The machines can capture the biometrics of registrants which include their photos, fingerprints and signatures.

The Comelec said they have 118 spare machines as backup in case some of the machines would malfunction during the 10-day registration.

A single machine can process up to 200 persons per day, while a registration center can accommodate people from 20 villages.

Jimenez said the location of the registration machines are the same voting centers during the 2010 elections such as public schools and designated village halls.

To prevent politicians from bringing flying voters during the registration, military checkpoints were established to stop suspicious large movements of people.

“Each registrant will also be marked with indelible ink,” Jimenez said.

Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, women sector representative to the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly said they have received reports of flying voters entering Lanao del Sur.

“Incident reports have yet to be filed but this early, we heard from the 103rd Brigade of Lanao del Sur that hakot (massing) of non-ARMM voters is being done in far-flung towns of Lanao del Sur,” she said.

Earlier, Brillantes also met military and police officials, along with civil society groups, to discuss the security situation on the ground.

On June 27, the Comelec promulgated Resolution 9479, providing for a gun ban in connection with the new voters’ listing from July 1 to 31 in the ARMM and the cities of Cotabato, Zamboanga and Isabela and the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato.

ARMM, which is composed of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, has traditionally been beset by high incidences of crimes and violence during election seasons.

Months before the 2010 elections, 58 people were killed in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao in what came to be called the Ampatuan massacre, said to be the bloodiest political violence in the country.
The Comelec has earlier said they have deployed some 2,000 personnel, who are not from the ARMM, to the registration centers in the region.

In addition, the Comelec has already issued a resolution deputizing the police and military for the voters’ registration, and they are under orders to tightly guard the registration sites to prevent armed groups or political warlords from illegally intervening and manipulating the process in their favor. (MindaNews)