All set for polls in Mindanao but last-minute vote buying, black propaganda reported

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MANILA, Philippines — All systems go for Monday’s elections.

The Precinct Count Optical Scan machines have been tested and sealed.

Members of the Board of Election Inspectors have collected the paraphernalia.

There will be enough power supply to run the voting machines, according to the Mindanao Development Authority.

Both the military’s Western Mindanao Command and Eastern Mindanao Command said tens of thousands of soldiers and militiamen have been deployed to ensure peaceful and orderly elections.

“Our soldiers, including me, will go on sleepless nights to ensure the safety of the voters, to safeguard the communities and to protect the sanctity of our people’s votes,” Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said.

Mindanao has some 12 million voters spread across 26 provinces.

Already, there are sure winners — governors Corazon Malanyaon of Davao Oriental, Rodolfo del Rosario of Davao del Norte, Arturo Uy of Compostela Valley, Angelica Amante of Agusan del Norte, Steve Solon of Sarangani and Antonio Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur.

Most candidates, however, still have to wait for the results of Monday’s elections. And on the eve of the voting, some continue to play it dirty through vote-buying.

In Ozamiz City, voters continue to wait for cash from political camps. Many loiter in groups on street corners, expecting last-minute windfalls.

In Baroy, Lanao del Norte, some voters felt like “disenfranchised supporters” after failing to receive what was promised them. “We have been waiting the past two days and it never came. We knew they have already distributed in other areas,” a market vendor related in Visayan.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer learned that votes in Baroy were being bought at “packaged” prices from P500 to P1,500. One camp even offered a “backing” of P500, which means a fee for voters who confirm to the camp that they voted for its slate.

In Davao Oriental, vote-buying was also reported in the typhoon-devastated towns of Cateel and Baganga. Voters were lured to sell their votes in exchange for at least P500. Earlier, a mayoral candidate was reported to have distributed cash and galvanized iron sheets to voters whose homes were destroyed by the typhoon.

In New Bataan, Compostela Valley, which was also hit by Typhoon Pablo in December, a candidate had promised free transportation to the polling center three kilometers away, for the 58 families who have remained in the tent city.

In General Santos City, nine supporters of mayoral aspirant Ronnel Rivera and congressional bet Rogelio Pacquiao, younger brother of boxing icon and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, were intercepted while trying to transport sacks of rice in the village of San Jose.

Village chair Alfredo Belgica intercepted at around 11 p.m. Saturday two motorcycles and a van carrying seven sacks of rice for Pacquiao and Rivera supporters in San Jose.

In Buenavista town in Agusan del Sur, village councilman Edmundo Pacatang was arrested for possessing fake P1,000 bills that were allegedly used for vote-buying.

Edmundo Pacatang, a councilor of Barangay (village) 9, was caught in the act waving the two fake P1,000 bills in public, while shouting that the counterfeit money belonged to a mayoral candidate, said Senior Police Officer 3 Helbert Guzman.

Pacatang was arrested for possessing counterfeit money, in violation of Article 168 of the Revised Penal Code, Guzman said.

Pacatang admitted having possessed the fake bills but said it was only given to him by a certain person who got it from a local candidate.

Local police said they have received at least 15 pieces of P1,000 fake bills — all surrendered by residents who obtained it from unknown persons who told them to vote for a particular mayoral candidate.

Butuan City election officer Ernie Palanana said the proliferation of fake bills could be a ploy by some “desperate” candidates to destroy each other.

“Some would spread fake money and attribute this to their opponents. This is a last-ditch effort of some candidates in the homestretch of the campaign,” said Palanan.

The bidding to buy votes in Agusan del Sur has gone up to P1,500 per voter in the sleepy Rosario town to ensure the 18-0 victory of the provincial and local candidates of the National Unity Party led by Gov. Adolph Edward Plaza, an eyewitness said.

A government employee who lives in a remote village said she was surprised to receive P1,500 on Saturday afternoon, which was distributed “house to house” by a community leader who told voters to vote straight all the candidates of NUP.

Residents believed the distribution of cash was financed by Mayor Jose “Pokloy” Cuyos, a multi-millionaire small-scale miner, once a “habal-habal” motorcycle driver, who became wealthy when an abandoned tunnel in the land he owned struck volumes of high grade gold.

The price of votes in the far-flung village of Buenasuerte in San Francisco town, however, is much lower at P500 per voter but just the same there are standing orders from NUP leaders to tell voters to vote straight for their candidates.

Governor Plaza’s camp has openly campaigned for an 18-0 sweep in the local candidates during their Miting de Avance on Thursday. His mother and former long-time governor, Valentina Plaza, has attended the rally to personally endorse incumbent Vice Gov. Santi Cane against her estranged son, incumbent provincial board member Victor Plaza, who challenged Cane.

Victor and his brother, former three-term congressman Rodolfo, broke their ties with their incumbent siblings, Adolph Edward, Rep. Maria Valentina Plaza in the first district and Rep. Maria Evelyn Plaza-Mellana. Rodolfo is challenging her elder sister Maria Evelyn.

In Cagayan de Oro City, some 400 volunteers of the National Movement for Free Elections will spread out and monitor the city’s 61 polling centers.

In Bukidnon, teachers tapped to serve as members of the boards of election inspectors said they have prepared for Monday’s elections.

Dolrich Anggot, 55, woke up as early as 4 a.m. to take the first of only two daily jeepney trips from her village to be in the city proper of Malaybalay to get the election supplies. She returned to her remote village of Zamboangita onboard a government dump truck.

(Reports filed by Julie S. Alipala, Ryan D. Rosauro, Rolando Pinsoy, Dennis Jay Santos, Charlie C. Señase, Aquiles Z. Zonio, Bobby Lagsa, Danilo Adorador III, Karlos Manlupig, Chris Panganiban, Inquirer Mindanao)

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