During the July 9 – 18, 2012 General Registration of Voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), I was deployed to the Province of Lanao del Sur to lead a team of COMELEC personnel directed to conduct a massive voter education and information drive and to monitor the overall conduct of the registration process in the Province.
It was my second time in the Province of Lanao del Sur. My first stint there was during the June 2010 Special Elections in the Province, so I sort of knew what to expect.
On July 8, 2012, the eve of opening of the General Registration, our team was already deluged with complaints from augmentation election officers and assistants moaning about the harassment they are getting from irate Village chiefs. Apparently, quite a number of Barangay Captains aren’t happy with the clustering of Registration Centers (RC) done by the COMELEC.
The COMELEC had to cluster the RCs to prevent untoward incidents from happening in the Province known for the occurence of Rido or blood feuds among families.
“Sir ano po ang gagawin ko?,” I was asked by a small-framed Election Assistant (EA) from the CARAGA Region assigned to an RC in a Marawi City Barangay. She told me that a Barangay Captain kept calling her on her mobile phone insisting that the RC assigned to his Village be relocated. Of course, that hapless EA has no authority to relocate RCs, so all I could tell her was to proceed to her assigned station as directed and to take a lot of ‘Ingat.’
I was so worried with that poor EA because the RC she was assigned to is located inside a village notorious for the prevalence of illegal activities and violence. Later on, I was informed by the Army Commander that the village is known as the ‘Tondo of Marawi’ (Marawi has a ‘Tondo’, who would have known?!). And so, I was relieved when I heard from her the next day that she and her team were okay.
The spate of complaints of harassment we received from augmentation COMELEC personnel made me make a mental note that day to coordinate with the 103rd Brigade and the Mayor of Marawi City to ensure their safety and security.
During the first day of the General Registration, we were swamped with reports of prevalence of obviously underage registrants. We noted that the augmentation election officers (AEOs) were left with no choice but to accept the applications for registration of these minors, if only to avoid commotion at the RCs. These enterprising AEOs, however, devised a clever way to mark the applications to indicate that these came from minors. The marks are meant to help the Resident Election Officers (REOs) delete these applications come the Election Registration Board (ERB) Hearing.
The pandemonium at the RCs, we later realized, were peanuts compared to a swathe of registration related violent incidents we monitored during our travels to different RCs in almost all of Lanao del Sur’s 41 Municipalities during the ten day registration period.
We came across the following incidents:
• 10 JULY: Interception and apprehension of alleged flying registrants loaded in one (1) Isuzu Elf Truck, and one (1) FX Tamaraw in Barangay Matling, Malabang.
• 10 JULY: Panic at a Registration Center in Butig Public Market when an unidentified person indiscriminately fired a Caliber .45 pistol;
• 10 JULY: Shooting incident that wounded a Barangay Chairman in the Municipal Hall of Bayang;
• 11 JULY: Interception and apprehension of alleged flying registrants loaded in three (3) Passenger Jeeps, one (1) Multi- Cab and one (1) Elf Cargo Truck in Barangay Pawak, Saguiaran;
• 12 JULY: Apprehension of a civillian in Marawi City for illegal possession of Caliber .45 pistol;
• 12 JULY: Strafing of a Registration Center and harassment of Augmentation Election Officers (AEOs) in Mapantao Elementary School in Barangay Mapantao, Lumba-Bayabao. Firefight between armed gunmen and security forces lasted for twenty minutes;
• 12 JULY: Shooting incident that killed a 17 year old civillian, near the Oriental Beta Elementary School in Lumbaca-Unayan;
• 12 JULY: Registration in the whole of Butig suspended at 2:00 PM due to violence. Shooting incident at a Registration Center in Barangay Samer and harassment of AEOs in Barangay Poctan. Traumatized AEOs left their stations for fear of their lives. Registration resumed 14 July.
• 12 JULY: Students residing in Mindanao State University (MSU) dorms were reportedly being forced to register under fictitious Maranao names, according to the 103rd Brigade;
• 18 JULY: A former Barangay Chairman killed in a shooting incident near the Municipal Hall in Saguiaran.
These incidents made me a big fan of the augmentation COMELEC personnel who were uprooted from their original stations and deployed to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to help in the cleansing of the list of voters in the Region. Their dedication and courage at the face of intimidation, harassment and violence contributed a lot to help stamp out the label earned by the ARMM as the election fraud capital of the Philippines. After all, a clean and credible elections starts with a clean list of voters.
I was humbled with the sincerity I saw from these AEOs and AEAs. ‘Wow they really wanted to help’, I told myself after coming across an Election Officer from Cebu assigned to Gannassi in Lanao del Sur who for ten days had to take care of nagging registrants in her station while regularly checking-up on her child who was battling Dengue at a hospital back home. There was also an AEO from Cebu assigned to Tubaran, LDS who suffered a stroke, paralyzing half of his body. The poor EO, who may have succumbed due to extreme pressure, had to be airlifted from Iligan City to Cebu.
So to all those who served in the ARMM General Registration, Kudos for a job well done!