Over 500 Tawi-Tawi candidates sign peace covenant

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi (VERA Files through MindaNews/25 October) – Intense political rivalries were set aside momentarily when over 500 candidates in Monday’s elections, most of them blood-related, signed a peace covenant in Tawi-Tawi.

Election officer Abu Talipan said at least three in every four candidates present at the event last Monday are blood-related.

Two brothers from Barangay Pahut, for example, are running against each other as village captain. In a show of support for the covenant, they exchanged hugs after the signing, drawing cheers from the crowd.

The covenant signing, organized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and local units, took place at the Beachside Inn Hotel and Restaurant in Bongao, the capital.

During the peace dialogue, members of the religious sector, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, the police and the military lent support to the Comelec for a peaceful conduct of the October 28 elections.

The candidates staged a four-kilometer unity walk with their supporters after the covenant signing.

Barangay elections in Mindanao are known to be very intense, as families seek to defend their territories by holding on to local positions.

“Dapat po sanang bigyan natin ng halaga ang mga pamilya. After ng eleksyon, bumalik tayo sa normal na pamumuhay na magkakamag-anak din na nakatira sa isang komunidad (We should value our families. After the elections, let us go back to our normal lives with our relatives and live as one community),” Col. Frederick R. Palad, Group Commander of Philippine Air Force, in Tawi-Tawi said.

“Nandito po kami para gampanan ang aming tungkulin at magbigay ng seguridad para sa darating na halalan. Ang nais po ng ating kataas-taasang commander na maging mapayapa, safe, fair itong elections na mangyayari sa taong ito. (We’re here to do our duty and provide security for the upcoming polls. Our chief commander wants peaceful, safe and fair elections this year),” he said.

The Comelec and local government units are recommending that 100 of the 203 villages in Tawi-Tawi be classified as areas of immediate concern. In Bongao alone, 16 of 35 barangays have been tagged as hot spots.

As of Thursday, there were no reported election-related violent incidents in all 100 barangays. In previous elections, violence prompted officials to declare a failure of elections in certain areas.

A total of 368 candidates are running as barangay captains in Tawi-Tawi, while 2,153 are eyeing a kagawad seat in 172 barangays in the towns of Bongao, Languyan, Panglima Sugala, Sapa-Sapa, Simunul, Sitangkai, South Ubian, Tandubas and Turtle Islands.

The Comelec in Bongao has yet to receive data from the towns of Mapun and Sibutu. (Babylyn Kano-Omar is a broadcast journalist for DXGD. She also chairs the Tawi-Tawi unit of PPCRV.)