GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 08 May) — Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi on Saturday evening said they will press charges against those responsible in the ruckus that happened inside the Bangsamoro Government Center, also referred to as the compound of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in Cotabato City where several teachers and residents were allegedly harmed by a group identified with the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP).
Commotion erupted on Saturday night at the Commission on Elections office at the BARMM compound when alleged supporters of the UBJP blocked the movement of vote-counting machines (VCMs) to polling centers from the local office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Local radio station Brigada News FM reported that a soldier was injured in the disturbance and a vehicle damaged.
Going live on social media and without naming names, Sayadi said what they did was “barbaric and not Islamic,” describing how people were chased with baseball bats, scaring the wits out of the teachers. She said many city residents were held inside the BARMM compound and could not leave because the gates were locked.
They were being held against their will and that is illegal detention, she said.
“Sa mga gumagawa niyan, there is always a time for everything. You may be very strong now but there will come a time maniningil ang panahon sa inyo. You just wait,” said Sayadi who has been politically at odds with the leadership of the BARMM.
Naguib Sinarimbo, Minister of the Interior and Local Government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and UBJP secretary general, said the tension erupted when the VCMs were about to be transported to their respective polling centers for final testing and sealing.
He said the tension build up began on Friday when there were reports of alleged attempts to sneak out ballots ahead of Monday’s elections in the towns of Sultan Kudarat and in Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao.
These towns are near Cotabato City.
Sinarimbo said this prompted members of the UBJP – the party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – to closely monitor the movement of election paraphernalia such as the VCMs.
The police in Sultan Kudarat town, however, denied the allegations categorically saying in a press release that no ballot snatching took place and all paraphernalia are intact and safe at the municipal treasurer’s office.
Police Lt. Col. Sabri Lakibul said a certain Murad Kusain Guiapar reported to the police that a guard allowed the entry of eight persons into the municipal hall on Friday, but, a subsequent search yielded negative result.
The VCMs in Cotabato were supposed to be tested and sealed earlier on Saturday.
Sinarimbo said they wanted the VCMs to be moved during daytime on Sunday, May 8, and not during the evening contrary to what Cotabato City police director Colonel Rommel Javier had wanted.
Sinarimbo said he wondered why Javier had insisted on having the VCMs transported on Saturday night.
When cooler heads prevailed, Sinarimbo said, it was agreed that the election paraphernalia would be moved by the Comelec and police on Sunday.
“It is very dangerous and unsafe to move them tonight,” Sinarimbo said.
Several public school teachers who were waiting for their appointments to serve in the May 9 elections in Cotabato City, were still at the Comelec premises when the commotion took place, sending many of them to scamper for safety. (Rommel G. Rebollido / MindaNews)