6,000 voters still unable to cast ballots in Lanao del Sur town
TUBARAN, Lanao del Sur, Philippines — Hundreds of residents have been camped outside the municipal building here since Tuesday to prevent the transport of unused ballots, vote-counting machines, and other election paraphernalia until a controversy over the last-minute reclustering of three voting centers has been resolved.
This standoff has prevented the balloting for 12 of 21 barangay of the town, involving a total of over 6,000 voters.
Of the 21 barangay, only nine had finished voting — Alog, Dinaigan, Gaput, Madaya, Tubaran Proper, Beta a Pagalamatan, Campo, Buribid, and Polo.
In the daytime, the protesters would form a human barricade outside the municipal hall.
Resident Salman Ebraim said they slept on the floor inside the municipal building and on the ground during the night. Ebrahim is a supporter of incumbent Mayor Yassin Papandayan who is seeking a third and final term in office.
Ebrahim explained that they protested the sudden breakup of what used to be three clustered voting centers into four, as that would expose some of them to dangers of physical attacks as the new voting center is located in a village where they have outstanding rido.
In addition, the identified new voting centers are far from where the voters live, Ebrahim added.
The Commission on Elections reportedly ordered the reclustering of voting centers, but this raised suspicions among Papandayan’s supporters as it came in the nick of time.
Originally, the voting centers were clustered as follows:
- Tangkal Elementary School for Barangays Tangkal, Paigoay, Pimbataan, Wago, Datumanong, Guiarong, Mindamudag and Baguiangon
- Tubaran Elementary School for Tubaran Proper, Dinaigan, Alog, Madaya, Malaganding, Gaput and Metadicop
- Buribid Elementary School for Poblacion Buribid, Campo, Gadongan, Riyantaran, Polo, and Beta a Pagalamatan
On May 9, military personnel providing security support at the voting centers said they were surprised that a new officer-in-charge of the local election office brought with her a new list of clustered precincts, typed on a piece of paper with no heading of the Comelec.
“In our coordination meetings from May 5 to May 8, only three voting centers were coordinated to be given security. We were surprised about a list of four voting centers,” an Army officer said, requesting not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the media.
“We don’t have ready personnel for deployment in these new areas,” the officer added.
The town’s election officer was lawyer Mohaimen Ali. But on May 9, Ali was no longer around and Suraida Maulay had assumed as officer in charge.
Lt. Yasher Hadjirulla, who heads a police team in the area, said a group of women supporting opposition mayoral bet Nassif Madki blocked the road leading to the voting center in Tubaran National High School, some 200 meters away from the municipal hall, to prevent the delivery of election paraphernalia because they wanted the new voting center assignments followed.
Hadjirulla added that the local election officer had declared a failure of election in the affected clustered precincts.
On Tuesday, the security forces received an order from the Comelec to pull out the election paraphernalia for safekeeping at the provincial capitol in Marawi City. This prompted the barricade by supporters of Papandayan in the municipal hall.
“Why bring [the election paraphernalia] to Marawi? So that they can hold voting there? How can we cast our ballots there? Why not hold it here when there is no violence in Tubaran?” Ebrahim asked.
Hadjirulla said Papandayan’s supporters have been peaceful.