South Cotabato jailbirds vote for the first time

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/13 May)—For the first time, hundreds of inmates at the South Cotabato Rehabilitation and Detention Center here exercised their right to vote during Monday’s national midterm and local elections, although delayed by around two hours and without precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines at hand.

Felicito Gumapac, acting provincial jail warden, said that security was tightened at the facility for the historic event with policemen and personnel of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) beefing up the provincial jail’s forces.

At least 690 inmates earlier registered for the May 13 polls, but only 503 inmates were to vote for Monday’s elections, he said.

“The other inmates who registered earlier have either been freed or have posted bail,” he told MindaNews.

The Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) started arriving at the facility at around 8:15 a.m. after getting the official ballots from the city’s Commission on Elections (Comelec) office, escorted by policemen.

But voting actually started at around 8:40 a.m. as BJMP officials put the voting process in order, using a microphone for the roll call.

The inmates waited for their turn to vote in an open field fronting the cells and have to pass two small gates before reaching the designated seven clustered precincts at the covered court.

Some BJMP personnel stood at the back of the BEIs to keep an eye on the inmates.

There’s no PCOS machine deployed at the jail where the inmates could immediately feed their ballots.

Gumapac said the ballots of the inmates will later be transported to the various precincts in the city where they were registered for feeding to the PCOS machines.

He said that one of the inmates who voted have been imprisoned for 18 years.

The provincial jail currently houses a total of 839 inmates, 30 of them women, Gumapac said.

Judge Renato Tampac of Regional Trial Court Branch 25 earlier ruled the inmates can vote in a series of hearings inside the jail.

Not all the inmates who exercised their rights to suffrage are residents of this city, but Gumapac said they agreed to be registered in the locality even if they are from other places.

Under Comelec Resolution 9371, “detainees who shall be eighteen years of age on the day of election and/or are committed inside the detention centers for at least six (6) months immediately preceding the election day may be registered as a voter.” (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)