Special polling places expected to encourage Mangyan to vote
NATURALLY shy and aloof, many members of the indigenous Mangyan group on Mindoro Island try not draw attention to themselves.
During public events, such as elections, they gather quietly in a corner and hardly mingle with the Tagalog (lowlanders).
Edith Estigoy-Trinidad, election officer of Naujan town in Oriental Mindoro province, said the Mangyan were reluctant to interact with people outside of their tribe. “So they would sit on stairways [during elections], even until 5 p.m. (end of polling day) that some of them miss the opportunity to vote,” she said.
Trinidad said voting precincts used to be far from where the Mangyan lived. Some local candidates would bring them to their homes, feed them, then take them to the precincts.
“I just don’t know if [politicians] give [the Mangyan] money,” Trinidad said.
The practice had given the Mangyan a bad reputation and had been called hakot (paid voters) of certain politicians, she said.
In past elections, the Mangyan reported cases of discrimination, harassment and threats from supporters of local candidates.
Now the Commission on Elections (Comelec) wants to change how things are done in indigenous peoples’ (IP) communities so tribal members, like the Mangyan, can freely exercise their right to vote.
First in PH history
On May 9, election day, Mindoro will be the first in the country to have separate polling places for IPs.
The Comelec is making sure the Mangyan will be able to vote through the new Accessible Voting Centers (AVCs) that will be set up near their communities and the Separate Polling Places (SPPs), which are special areas assigned to them, inside regular precincts.
Trinidad said former Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento started the project and incumbent Commissioner Luie Guia made sure that it was implemented.
“I’m very excited about these (AVCs and SPPs) because the whole country is looking at us. This will be the first time [that this will be done] in the history of Philippine elections,” she said.
Trinidad said they wanted to raise the morale of the Mangyan and motivate them to go out and vote. “There should be no discrimination,” she said.
The Mangyan have endured taunting, especially during elections, from lowlanders. Aside from being accused of selling their votes, the IP community is also looked down upon for being from the mountains.
Comelec officials said Oriental and Occidental Mindoro will have 21 SPPs and 8 AVCs for 3,000 Mangyan voters in 21 towns. Their agency’s records show the Philippines has at least 100,000 voters belonging to IP groups.
If the initiative succeeds in the Mindoro provinces, the officials said the poll body will replicate it in the next elections in areas with significant numbers of IP voters.
Catholic priest Gabayno Oybad, a Mangyan Hanunuo from Bulalacao, the southernmost town of Oriental Mindoro, said, “This is a good start and will [benefit] the Mangyan so they can rightly choose who they want [to lead them].”