1 killed in Rajah Buayan but Maguindanao polls generally peaceful

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (MindaNews/28 October) – Except for a strafing incident that killed one and wounded another in Rajah Buayan town, voting in Monday’s barangay elections was generally peaceful in Maguindanao.

But Col. Edgar Gonzales, chief of the 1st Infantry Mechanized Brigade, told MindaNews the strafing incident in Barangay Mileb, Rajah Buayan town did not disrupt the elections as it happened a kilometer away from the voting precincts.

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Nasser Malang and Saudie Untong were rushed to the hospital in Shariff Aguak but Malang died on the way.

Rajah Buayan mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan said Malang was a relative of Pingkol Utto, candidate for chair in Barangay Mileb.

A monitoring board on election day activities at the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Mechanized Brigade showed elections in the nine towns covered by the brigade were ongoing, with the time it started shown on the board, most of them between 7 and 8 a.m.

Three precincts in Shariff Aguak started at 9:02 a.m. because the police personnel from outside Mindanao who were deployed here to serve as Board of Election Tellers arrived at around 5:30 a.m. and had to undergo briefing.

At the Shariff Aguak Central Elementary School, Norhida Mamasained, 19, told MindaNews she couldn’t find her name on the voters’ list. The last time she voted here was in May. But a few minutes later, a relative approached her to say he found her name in another classroom.

Posters outside the school showed the Ampatuan clan is still a political force to reckon with several candidates surnamed Ampatuan in both Barangay Poblacion Mother and Barangay Mother Labu-Labu.

In Datu Unsay town, Aida Calixto, chair of the Board of Election Inspectors in the Barangay Meta clustered precincts  0002A and 0002B at the public market building said  most of the registered voters had cast their votes. She said the voting precinct has 292 registered voters. As of 10 a.m. she counted in front of MindaNews, only 28 ballots left.

At the Datu Gumbay Piang Elementary School in Datu Piang,  soldiers from the 45th IB who were manning the gate said voting started at around 7:30 a.m. because they had to manage the crowd to line up. Police personnel served as members of the Board of Election Tellers (BET) since a number of teachers declined to serve for security reasons.

Security was tight during the elections. At least two armored personnel carriers could be seen on the roadside fronting major clustered voting precincts in the towns of Shariff Aguak, Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, Shariff Saydona, Datu Hoffer, Mamasapano and Datu Unsay and Rajah Buayan, areas under the Mechanized Brigade.

Maguindanao has 36 towns.  Buldon town, as in previous elections, again figured in delayed elections. Earlier, four classrooms in an elementary school were burned at 3 a.m. Sunday.

In Datu Piang, MindaNews saw seven truckloads of soldiers on board KM trucks with identifying mark “TF SAFE” for Task Force Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) 2013, entering the town at around 9 a.m.  Gonzales said these were standby forces that were moving around to monitor and to act in case armed groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) disrupted the elections.

In Sitio Gadong, Barangay Sambulawan in Datu Salibo town, voters from barangays Andavit and Sambulawan queued outside the ARMM Social Fund buildings used as voting precincts, awaiting their turn to cast their vote for their barangay chair and seven councilors.

A hundred meters away, a team from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  were in a huddle under a mango tree in Buffer Station Post 3. Abdulaziz Epon, MILF  zone commander, told MindaNews that they were deployed there on September 5 for “active defense” of communities and to safeguard the peace process from spoilers.

The buffer forces were deployed, in coordination with the government’s ceasefire committee, following the series of attacks in communities by the BIFF, a breakaway group from the MILF.

On October 19, the ceasefire committees of the government and the MILF  Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a Mutual Understanding for “ceasefire-related functions during the October 28, 2013 barangay elections.”

The document specifies that the undertaking is “purely for GPH-MILF ceasefire and peace process related function and only incidental but not as a Philippine elections-related function.”

“This is not to be interpreted as MILF’s inconsistency with its standing policy not to take part or meddle in whatever capacity on the government electoral processes,” the document said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)