Polls in parts of South still hang

SPECIAL ELECTIONS NEEDED IN 12 A.R.M.M. PLACES AS NUMBER OF VOTERS CAN SWING SENATE RACE

By Cher Jimenez

Reporter

SOME 100,000 voters were disfranchised as elections in some areas, mostly in Mindanao, were either postponed or declared a failure.

The figure does not include voters who failed to exercise their right of suffrage because they did not find their names on the certified voters’ list.

Public school teachers manning the polling precincts in parts of Mindanao and in Biñan, Laguna did not want to report due to security threats, said Commission on Election (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos.

Still, the verdict from most agencies was simply this: the elections were “generally orderly” and one of the most peaceful because, for all the violence in the runup to Monday’s polls, election day itself had relatively little violence.

The Comelec said some members of the boards of election inspectors (BEIs) refused to man their respective precincts for fear of their own safety.

In Lanao del Sur, 10 towns failed to hold elections as BEI members were threatened by contending local politicians, according to poll commissioner Rene Sarmiento who is the commissioner-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“There were some firefights among supporters of candidates. . .the BEIs were afraid to serve,” Sarmiento said in a briefing Monday afternoon.

The ARMM election officer, Teofisto Elnas, also declared a failure of elections in two towns in Basilan—Akbar and Sumisip—owing to violence. Mayoral candidate Hajarun Jamiri survived an ambush early Monday morning in Akbar, while unidentified men burned down an elementary school in barangay Bakung in Sumisip.

Three registered voters, including a relative of Anak Mindanao Party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman were also wounded in an ambush allegedly staged by men identified with Hataman’s rivals.

Elnas considered the situation in the two towns “uncontrollable,” according to the Regional Election Monitoring Center (Remac).

Commissioner Sarmiento, meanwhile, added that the Comelec still had to determine if it will declare a failure of election in the towns of Bayang, Lumbata, Madalum, Binidayan, Puales, Sultan Dumalondong, Lumba-Bayabao, Masiu, Kapai and Lumbayanague.

But Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. said special elections will be held in these areas “soonest” because of the number of people who failed to cast their votes.

Sarmiento said the 10 towns have between 60,000 and 70,000 registered voters.

Abalos said special elections were mandatory because the number of registered voters there “will definitely affect the ranking of senatorial candidates.”

Sarmiento also reported that elections in two barangays in Basilan, covering a total of six precincts, also did not push through as the BEIs did not show up in their precincts. The same thing happened in two barangays in Zamboanga del Norte, as teachers were scared by the presence of some Abu Sayyaf bandits 50 kilometers away from the poblacion.

Elections in Barira in Shariff Kabunsuan were also postponed as women supporters of Mayor Alex Tumais sat on ballot boxes containing election paraphernalia, preventing the holding of the polls in his area.

Sarmiento said Tumais is a Gawad Kalinga awardee.

PARANG, Shariff Kabunsuan—A civilian and a soldier were killed and eight others were wounded when fighting broke out between supporters of two local politicians in Tubaran, Lanao del Sur, the Office of Civil Defense in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OCD-ARMM) said.

OCD-ARMM chief Leo Alicias said the fighting happened shortly before 11 a.m. after a group of armed men arrived in barangay Poblacion.

Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, ARMM police commander, confirmed the incident but said only one was killed and two were wounded. Rosa May de Guzman Maitem

In Biñan, Laguna, some members of the BEIs also refused to man polling areas because they were not registered voters of those precincts.

Elections commissioner Florentino Tuason Jr. said the polls in 17 precincts in Biñan were extended until 6 p.m. Monday after members of the BEIs there were replaced.

Each polling precinct in the country has a maximum of 200 registered voters.

Tuazon, who is also in charge of the province of Masbate, enforced a “no-fly zone” to stop candidates from using helicopters in transporting flying voters and illegal election paraphernalia.

“That is being enforced up to now,” he added.

In Lanao del Norte, elections did not push through in two barangays in Kauswagan as armed groups tried to steal election paraphernalia from members of the BEI, Elections commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said.

The Comelec estimates that voters’ turnout was about 75 percent.

The Comelec postponed the polls in Pantar, Lanao del Norte, because of the discovery of about 2,000 voters whose registrations were not approved by the poll body.

Abalos said the Comelec will hold a special election in Pantar within 30 days.

In Pantao town, also in Lanao del Norte, the Comelec declared as “lost” a total of 3,702 official blank ballots that were duly received by its city treasurer.

Elections commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, who is the commissioner in charge of Northern Mindanao, said two batches of official ballots were discovered missing, although the city treasurer has received them.

“The treasurer said they were properly deposited and duly guarded but she can’t explain why the two batches of ballots were missing,” Ferrer told reporters.

At the Comelec central office in Manila, most of the initial 300 complaints logged by the poll body’s hotlines center dealt with vote buying, according to director Marlene Rito.

In Dipolog City, Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said the few hours of the election was generally peaceful except for one “minor” explosion. In Sulu, a firefight between followers of local politicians was reported.

Sarmiento said one precinct in Basilan got burned but the election continued. In Shariff Kabunsuan, a mayor asked the Comelec to declare a failure of elections following reports that BEI members were “sitting” on ballot boxes.

The Comelec ordered the BEIs to go on with the election.

There are no reported untoward incidents in Western and Central Visayas, Elections commissioner Resurreccion Borra, the poll official in charge of these areas, said.

Cases of voters’ disfranchisement, electioneering, and vote-buying comprise majority of the complaints received by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

Bro. Clifford Sorita, PPCRV secretary-general, said a total of 33 cases were reported to the group’s hotline on Monday. At least 15 involved election fraud, he said.

These include vote-buying, misinformation, electioneering, presence of flying voters, and disfranchisement. Sorita added the PPCRV, the poll watchdog of the Roman Catholic Church, is still in the process of determining how many of the 45 million registered voters were not able to cast their ballots because some precincts were clustered.

Even government officials were not spared from disfranchisement in Monday’s elections.

Chairman Feliciano Salonga of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) traveled all the way from the Subic Bay Free Port in Zambales to San Juan, Metro Manila, to vote, but failed as his name was missing from the voters list.

The Department of Education (DepEd) on Monday said the elections were generally peaceful and orderly.

Lawyer Franklin Sunga, undersecretary for legal affairs and head of DepEd Election Task Force stressed that the assessment was only as far as the polling places and precincts are concerned. Although there are some reports of the usual chaos in some polling precincts, “most of these are isolated cases.”

Asked why he had to limit his assessment to polling precincts, Sunga said “because we [DepEd] are not the proper agency to give the general assessment of the conduct of election and we don’t have the expertise for it.”

The elections in Pampanga were generally peaceful and orderly despite reports of power outages in several parts of the province and allegations of vote-buying.

International Observer Mission 2007 member Cecilia Lero expressed concern over the quantity of reports of vote-buying and power outages their team has been receiving.

Swedish member of Parliament Olle Thorell, who is among the three international observers deployed to Pampanga, said the elections were generally peaceful, although vote-buying reports persist.

On Sunday, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto issued a pastoral statement expressing “serious alarm” following reports of alleged vote-buying which parishioners from various barangays have brought to his attention.

–With E. Torres, J. Cunanan, C. Mocon and B. Garcia