Children distribute campaign materials in Sultan Kudarat town

TACURONG CITY (MindaNews/13 May)— Children were extensively used to distribute campaign materials of local politicians near polling precincts in Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat in today’s national midterm and local elections, an election watchdog said.

Photographs of children campaigning during election day were documented by volunteers of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) in Lambayong, where at least five precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines did not function.

“Both camps were seen employing children to distribute election materials near polling precincts,” Namfrel volunteer Aireen Romero said.

The mayoralty post is being contested by Florante Agduma of the United Nationalist Alliance and Joaquin Lim of the ruling Liberal Party.

The official campaign period ended last Saturday and distributing candidates’ election materials has since been not allowed.

Romero also said that she saw a P100 bill rolled into a sheet of paper allegedly for buying votes in the town.

Romero said that five PCOS machines did not function but was told by municipal election officer Shabbir Pendaliday that the elections at the Lambayong Central Elementary School still pushed through.

The technicians could not fix the defective PCOS machines and it would take another day (until Tuesday) to replace them, so the election officer decided that voters could still cast their votes and these were kept in a folder, she said.

Another option Pendaliday was considering was to borrow PCOS machines from other precincts which can finish early, Romero said.

MindaNews reached Pendaliday by phone at 3:44 p.m. but declined an interview. He promised “to explain later.”

In some other parts of Sultan Kudarat province, reports of vote buying also allegedly marred today’s polls, said Fr. Armand Dice, Namfrel provincial chair.

“The amount range from P300 to P500 although we really had a hard time verifying them,” the priest said.

In Datal Blao in Columbio town, Dice said that Namfrel volunteers were not allowed to enter the polling center to observe the proceedings.

The priest said the village chief is allegedly related to one of the town’s political aspirants.

In Barangay Sinapolan also in Columbio town, Dice said that Namfrel volunteers reported that the Board of Election Inspectors were allegedly the ones marking the ballots and then giving them to the voters.

In Barangay Simsiman in Lutayan town, Namfrel volunteers reported threats from supporters of a local candidate whom the priest did not identify.

“We asked our volunteers who feel threatened to immediately pull out,” Dice said, noting they could not risk the safety of their volunteers.

In the remote coastal town of Palimbang, the priest said they have no way of monitoring because they have no volunteers there. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)