Voting assistors: Helping PWDs or manipulating votes?

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/21 May) — An abnormally high concentration of supposed persons with disabilities (PWD) voting in a single barangay sounded the alarm for volunteers of the Zamboanga City chapter of Legal Network for Peaceful Election (LENTE).

LENTE Zamboanga chair Jose Augustus Villano said his group found that of the 847 registered PWD voters in Zamboanga City, 505 or almost 60 percent are from Barangay Taluksangay.

Villano himself observed voting at the five clustered precincts of Taluksangay. He immediately noticed that almost all voters, whether they appeared to have a disability or not, were helped by a small group of people stationed inside the precinct.

When Villalon asked election officers about them, he was told they were “liners” there to assist PWDs. LENTE records show that 80 to 90 per cent of all who voted were assisted.

Villalon thought that the people assisted might have been illiterate rather than PWDs. “I asked them in both Tagalog and in the native dialect Tausug and they understood. I asked them who they want to vote for and they pointed at the names.”

When he asked the voters how they were related to the “liners,” they replied, “Sila ang magvo-vote para sa amin (They were the ones who voted for us).”

Villalon said that since the “liners” were the same for all the voters that he saw entering, they could not possibly qualify as PWD assistors as prescribed by Comelec.

Section 7 of Republic Act 10366 or an act authorizing the Commission on Elections to establish precincts assigned to accessible polling places exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens states that a PWD may have as assistor a relative within the fourth degree of sanguinity or consanguinity, any person of confidence belonging to same household, or any member of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI).

The law, which was approved Feb 15 this year also states that “except for the members of the BEIs, no assistor can assist for more than three times.”

When Villalon told the election officers that this was illegal, the BEI replied that she cannot assist the voters herself because she is busy.

Taluksangay is a coastal barangay about 17 kilometers east of downtown Zamboanga with a population of about 8,000 mostly Muslim residents.

It is the bailiwick of the Nuños, an old and respected Muslim family. To this family belongs Lilia

Lilia Nuño talks to the media after she was declared winner of the race for representative of the first district of Zamboanga City. Nuño is the city’s first Muslim representative.

Nuño was declared by Comelec in the evening of May 14 as winner in the race for second district representative, beating Jomar Lobregat, brother of incumbent mayor, Celso Lobregat.

In an interview with Nuño moments before she was declared winner, she said that it is not true that there are that many registered PWD voters in Taluksangay. “That’s definitely not true… that there are that much PWDs in Taluksangay.”

As to the “liners,” she explained that there are many Badjaos in Taluksangay who do not know how to either read or write. The liners, she said, were there for these people, as well as for PWDs.

“Those people who go with the Badjaos and with those who do not know how to read and write (are there) to assist voting,” Nuño said. “It does not mean whatsoever in any way that they manipulate their votes. How can you manipulate when there present are Task Force Zamboanga, the police, their watchers are there, NAMFREL is there?”

Badjaos are an indigenous ethnic group who usually live nomadic lives on boats or in houses on stilts in the seaside.

Despite its small voting population, Taluksangay was a point of contention during the campaign period. Jomar Lobregat’s party, Adelante Zamboanga, claimed that they were not allowed to post their materials in there.

In a news item in Zamboanga Times on April 14, Adelante Zamboanga team coordinator Rudy Lim said that when he asked Taluksangay barangay chairman Abdurahman Nuño if they can conduct a pulong-pulong (meeting) in Taluksangay, Nuño replied, “No deal.”

Abdurahman Nuño is the husband of Lilia and sits in the city council representing the second district and is president of the Association of Barangay Captains.

Nuño denied Lobregat’s allegations. “We are very, very careful you know. Because we know all eyes are on Taluksangay because Taluksangay is a bailiwick of the Nuños. They think we manipulate (but) we would never do that.”

He clarified that they discouraged other parties from going there because “the (Taluksangay) people know that they had been hitting me. If they were booed they will feel bad, so we are just trying to prevent it. That is the reason why, although it was said in jest that it was a ‘no deal, they cannot go,’ but they took it seriously.” . (Yen Blanco Delgado and Barry Barraca/VERA Files)