GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 May) – Except for problems like long queues, missing names of voters and defective precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, the conduct of elections have been peaceful in Mindanao’s southern provinces, according to reports received by MindaNews as of 3:30pm today.
In South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat provinces have so far remained peaceful despite the confirmed movements of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in several parts of the area, an Army official said.
Major Gerald Monfort, executive officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said they have not recorded any election or security-related untoward incident as of noon Monday and they expect such situation to continue until the polling precincts close down by 7 p.m.
“This is so far one of the most peaceful elections in the area,” he told reporters.
The official said their deployment is presently focused in localities that had been identified as election areas of concern, specifically those within the boundary areas of the municipalities of Lake Sebu, Tboli and Surallah in South Cotabato; Sarangani and South Cotabato boundary; and, Koronadal City and Columbio, Sultan Kudarat boundary.
He said they earlier monitored some movements by the NPA’s Front 73 at the boundary of South Cotabato and Sarangani, especially in some upland villages in the municipalities of Maasim, Kiamba and Maitum.
Monfort said a bigger group of NPA rebels was confirmed to have been moving in the last several days in some areas within the boundary of Koronadal City and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.
He said the group, which was reportedly advancing towards Koronadal City, could be planning to stage attacks that might disrupt the conduct of the polls in the area.
The rebels could have been targeting Koronadal City, knowing that any successful attack in the area could become a major issue, he said.
He said they monitored the movements of the rebels until late on Sunday.
“But our troops were able to intercept their movements and operations are ongoing to flush them out from the area,” said Monfort, who made a brief stop at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) provincial office in Koronadal City around noon Monday.
The official said they are currently determining the exact strength of the group, which is reportedly composed of combined under the NPA’s Far South Mindanao Revolutionary Committee.
“Some of them came from as far as Matanao, Davao del Sur. We’re currently assessing why they’re that big and heavily armed?” Monfort said.
He said they are confirming reports that the group had tried to collect “permit-to-campaign” fees from some local politicians.
“They reportedly tried to extort from our politicians but not one paid any attention to them,” he said.
Meantime, South Cotabato police director Senior Supt. Romeo Ver said the entire province has remained peaceful and they have not recorded any major election-related incident in the area so far.
He said the overall situation in three municipalities that were earlier listed as areas of concern — T’boli, Tampakan and Lake Sebu — have been considered normal.
Ver said he has designated the senior officers of the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office to supervise the security monitoring and operations in various parts of the province.
“They’ve been moving around the area to directly monitor the situation on the ground,” he said.
In Tampakan town, Senior Insp. Sherwin Maglana said they have successfully delivered early on Monday the eight PCOS machines to five mountain villages in the area that were considered as critical due to the reported presence of armed groups in the past several days.
The Comelec earlier withdrew the scheduled final testing and sealing of the PCOS machines assigned for Barangays Buto, Danlag, Pulabato, Tablu and Palo due to security threats.
Maglana said they have sent some of their personnel to the affected areas to augment the security operations being conducted by the 27th Infantry Battalion.
In Tantangan town, a grenade throwing incident was reported at around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday but authorities declared it as isolated and not related to the conduct of the elections in the area.
Senior Police Officer 3 Wilmar Pelaez, Tantangan police’s chief investigator, said in telephone interview that two unidentified motorcycle-riding men threw a grenade at the pickup vehicle of businessman Alfredo Lazarita Jr., 49, while the latter was travelling along the national highway in Purok 6 of Barangay Mangilala in Tantangan.
“Fortunately, the grenade did not explode,” he said.
Pelaez said Lazarita, who is a resident of Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat, has just visited his farm in the area when the incident happened.
In New Bataan, Compostela Valley, one PCOS machine malfunctioned at the Cabinuangan Central Elementary School around 8:00am, affecting cluster precinct number 7. Similar problems occurred in some barangays, according to reports received by the Philippine Information Agency-Region 11.
Davao City police director Senior Supt. Ronald de la Rosa said the conduct of the elections was peaceful as of 9:30 am today.
De la Rosa said a total of 1,460 policemen were deployed in various areas of the city to do election-related duties with two cops manning each polling center, PIA-11 reported.
Davao del Sur provincial election assistant supervisor Edgardo Sadili also said that no untoward incident was reported as polling centers opened this morning.
At 10:30pm on Sunday, however, the provincial police office reported that 18 armed men on board 13 motorcycles were apprehended at the joint military-police checkpoint in Malita town. Confiscated from the group were 1 M-16 rifle, 1 shotgun, 3 caliber 45, 1 caliber 38 and some bullets.
Also on Sunday night in Sulop town, Davao del Sur the 39th Infantry Battalion seized a 19mm Uzi and three .38 caliber pistols at the military-police checkpoint.
A power outage, however, occurred in most parts of South Cotabato past 4pm today. Power had not been restored as of 4:30pm.
In an advisory sent to MindaNews at 3:35pm, the Mindanao Development Authority(MinDA) said it had received “no reports of major power interruptions or outages that affected the conduct of elections in Mindanao” based on its monitoring from 7:00am to 1:00pm today.
“With enough power supply in the Mindanao grid, there were no reported brownouts in perennially affected areas of General Santos City and Koronadal City, except for 5-minute power interruption in Zamboaga City due to transient fault along distribution line,” MinDA said.
“There was one reported brownout mid-morning in Brgy. Luinab,Iligan City due to a fallen post. Fortunately, there were no polling precincts in the area. The affected line was restored by 1:15pm, it said.
MinDA added the Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative reported a brief power outage in the far-flung barangays of San Isidro, Davao del Norte at 11:47am and power was restored at 12:33pm. (Allen V. Estabillo and H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)