Philippines: Elections, Lanao-style

Jun. 04, 2007

Pandemonium and scuffles break out in several precincts as special elections are held in Lanao del Sur towns. With soldiers deployed in schools and halls leading to precincts littered with garbage and reeking of manure, and many ballots uncounted, one would ask whats so special about the special elections held here on May 26.

Election Watch
Vol. VII, No. 17, June 3-9, 2007

MASIU, Lanao del Sur, Philippines An armored personnel carrier (APC) and a military truck are parked in front of the Masiu town hall on May 26, the day special elections were held in this town and 12 other municipalities in Lanao del Sur. Two platoons of soldiers in fatigue uniform are at the decrepit municipal hall with trash strewn all over. A squad of soldiers armed with M16s mans the main entrance. They are part of the 2,000 soldiers and 500 police officers sent to the province for the special elections.

Thirty-two crude-looking ballot boxes are mounted like sandboxes to cover the soldiers headquarters inside the hall. A sign scribbled on an orange cartolina posted in one of the ballot boxes read Bawal ang sibilyan dito (Civilians are prohibited here) as if to underscore that only soldiers are allowed inside.

Another squad of soldiers stands by the corridor leading to a room where officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) do their job. Lawyer Dindo Magsalalang of the Comelec Election and Barangay Affairs Department says he flew in from Manila early morning that day to oversee the special elections in Masiu. He adds he would have refused the directive if security was not assured.

A failure of elections was declared in Masiu and 12 other municipalities in this province during the May 14 elections. The reason: The Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) failed to appear at the polling precincts for fear, so it was claimed, of being caught in the crossfire of warring politicians.

In fact, Magsalalang said, indiscriminate firing erupted at the back of the town hall early morning on election day before the polling precincts were opened. No casualties were reported. Mga watchers ata ng magkabilang panig (Looks like the watchers from both sides were involved), he said, shaking his head. Despite the shooting, Magsalalang said, he expects a peaceful election.

A GMA News Research report says seven municipalities in Lanao del Sur have been in the election watch list since 2001. Polls in the towns of Bayang, Calanogas, Madalum, Pagayawa, Kapatagan, Lumbatan and Sultan Dumalundong have been mired by incidents of poll fraud and failure of elections.

The same report said these municipalities are either 4th or 5th class and are among the poorest in the country. Only a few communities in these towns have electricity and communication lines while many rural areas have no main roads. Politics in these towns is dominated by political clans.

The norm

During the special elections, polling precincts at the Magandia Amaloy Elementary School were clustered. There were two precincts in each 6 x 8-meter classrooms. Voters lists, which under the Omnibus Election Code should be posted outside the precincts, were nowhere to be found. It turned out that the BEIs were holding the lists and were conducting a roll call of the voters.

No secrecy folders or lists of candidates were inside the polling precincts either. Whats inside were poll watchers of local candidates dictating to the voters who to vote for. In one classroom, a poll watcher was standing atop a chair and looked like he was calling the shots for the two clustered precincts in that room. The BEIs could only watch in disbelief.

Some women who have cast their votes had no indelible marks on their fingers despite a bottle of indelible ink placed on the BEIs table. Asked why, one woman said, matter-of-factly, para makaboto ako ulit (so I can vote again).

Elsewhere in Pangandaman Central Elementary School, also in this municipality, pandemonium broke out. Voters were not allowed to fill out their ballots by themselves, poll watchers said. As soon as ballots were handed to the voters, five to 10 poll watchers would help the voter fill out the ballot. Pati sundalo tumutulong magsulat (Even soldiers are helping to fill out ballots), a poll watcher said.

Commotion ensued as the polling precinct was about to close. Twenty excess ballots had been left and the BEIs and poll watchers of two local candidates fought over the division of the remaining ballots which they could use to write the names of their candidates. Soldiers could not pacify the warring watchers who shoved and shouted at each other for about 20 minutes until the BEI chair padlocked the ballot box.

The counting

Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) wait for the counting to start.Since 1995, Magsalalang said that the counting of votes in this province has been centralized in Marawi, the Islamic city capital of Lanao del Sur. For the special elections, however, counting was done in three areas the Peoples Park, the Amai Pak Pak Central Elementary School and the Marawi National High School.

The canvassing areas were highly militarized. Gates, for example, were manned by squads of soldiers, while army trucks and hundreds of soldiers were deployed inside the Peoples Park.

O, picture taking. Ngiti kayo (Smile for the picture taking), one of the soldiers told his colleagues when this reporter took pictures of them. After taking their pictures, one of the soldiers told this reporter, nakunan na kita ng video! (Ive taken video shots of you).

At around 12 noon, BEIs and poll watchers were inside the auditorium. Magelyn Mendoza, 37, a public school teacher from Kapatagan, was seated on the floor, carping: Kagabi pa kami dito, hindi pa kami kumakain, hindi rin kami nakaka-ihi (Weve been here since last night, and we havent had the chance to eat or even urinate). There were no portable toilets either, she said, and toilets outside are so dirty that they have become unusable.

While most of the election inspectors waited for food, some had fallen asleep. Others busied themselves putting on make-up.

The counting begins at the People’s Park in the Islamic City of Marawi.The counting has been stalled, Mendoza said, for unknown reasons. It was almost 3 p.m. when it started but everything has turned into a bedlam. Outside, heavy rain fell as shouts of poll inspectors from 36 clustered precincts of Kapatagan filled the air inside the auditorium.

BrownoutAn hour or so into the counting, the lights went off but, surprisingly, there was no panic or shouting. Anticipating the brownout, the inspectors and poll watchers came ready with their miniature flashlights, turned them on and continued with the counting. Ganito naman lagi (Its been like this since) one of the poll watchers said.

Human waste

Piles of used styrofoam, plastic cups, spoons and fork, paper plates, foil packs, plastic bags of various sizes greeted poll watchers, BEIs and observers as they trooped to Amai Pak Pak Central Elementary School for the counting of votes from Lumbayanague town. The stairs leading up to the counting areas are littered with rotten food, apparently leftovers from the May 14 elections. People who stayed here for the night could have urinated and defecated along the halls leading to the classrooms. Outside the classrooms are more piles of garbage.

Piles of garbage in front of the Amai Pak Pak Central Elementary School in Marawi City.Inside precinct number 0010-A of Barangay Kadiligan, the three-page tally sheets for national positions were used as a table cloth while poll watchers sat on them. When asked why, one of the poll watchers said, wala naman kasing bumoboto ng senador at party-list (Nobody here votes for senator or party-list group).

Indeed, except for a few isolated cases, no votes were apparently cast for senators and party-list groups in this precinct. If there were any, as in the case of one ballot which had the name Lorin (apparently referring to Genuine Opposition senatorial candidate Loren Legarda), votes were not tallied.

But at precincts numbers 15-A, Barangay Diromoyod, and 009-A, Barangay Cabuntongan, votes were not being tallied even as ballots contained votes for senators and party-list groups. One of the BEIs explained that they were ordered by higher authorities to leave the votes for national positions uncounted.

Whats so special about the elections in Lanao del Sur?

In the 2004 presidential elections, Lanao del Sur figured prominently as the province where Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reportedly got her big lead against rival Fernando Poe, Jr., a legendary actor and hero for the Maranaos.

This was revealed after wiretapped conversations allegedly between Macapagal-Arroyo and former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano surfaced. In the conversation, popularly known as the Hello, Garci tapes, the President was heard asking: So will I still lead by more than one million (votes)? Garcillano replied: Mataas ho siya (Poe) pero maco-compensate po sa Lanao yan (Poe has huge votes but Lanao can make up for that).Tally sheets for the national positions are used as table cloth.

With votes for national positions not tallied by the BEIs in the precinct level, will the Hello, Garci scandal rear its ugly head once more in Lanao del Sur? Bulatlat

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