Losing Maguindanao bet cries fraud
(First of two parts)
If you’re a registered voter in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, you don’t have to go out and vote because somebody else will likely do that for you.
In a town considered the country’s second poorest, all you apparently need to do to win the elections is get the backing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and enlist a handful of people willing to shade thousands of ballots to be fed into vote-counting machines (VCMs).
This was the claim of someone who ran for vice mayor in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, who flew to Manila early this week to speak out against alleged massive cheating in his municipality and provide the Inquirer video footage of the alleged poll fraud in his town.
Speaking to the Inquirer in a safe house in Metro Manila on Wednesday night, Bassir Utto claimed that a reelectionist, Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom, and his wife, Anida Dimaukom, manipulated the automated elections to favor their candidacies for mayor and vice mayor, with full support from the head of the MILF 118th Base Command, Wahid Tundoc.
Entire LP slate
The Dimaukom couple also rigged the polls to enable the entire Liberal Party (LP) slate to win the elections in the municipality, according to Utto.
Utto, a former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) assemblyman for the second district of Maguindanao and former Datu Saudi Ampatuan councilor, ran as a candidate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) against Dimaukom’s wife.
He said the couple used intimidation, through armed MILF fighters under Tundoc, to scare away legitimate voters from polling places and allow their supporters to shade the LP lineup in bundles of ballots that were later fed into the VCMs.
“Nobody’s coming forward. Everybody’s scared. I am doing this not only for this generation but also for the next generations (in Datu Saudi Ampatuan). Until when will our municipality in Maguindanao have dirty and fraudulent elections?” Utto told the Inquirer.
“We are no longer talking about winning or losing. I am just revealing the truth,” he said.
The Inquirer tried but failed to get a comment from the MILF. The Dimaukom couple could not be located.
Armed MILF members
In an affidavit, Utto said that on May 9, Election Day, he was observing the conduct of the elections in Barangay Kabinge in Datu Saudi Ampatuan when he noticed around 100 members of the MILF’s 118th Base Command on standby near a polling center.
He said he spotted at least six of the men brandishing pistols “in full view” of military personnel stationed in the area.
Tundoc, he said, “is an influential and feared commander of the MILF due to his recent involvement in the SAF 44 controversy.”
Utto was referring to the Jan. 25, 2015, carnage in Mamasapano town where 44 police commandos, 18 MILF fighters and five civilians were killed.
Tundoc was not subjected to an “interview” by the Philippine National Police’s board of inquiry in connection with the incident because the MILF central committee disallowed it.
Tundoc was arrested at a checkpoint in Cotabato City in February 2014 on charges of multiple murder and arson but was turned over to the MILF ceasefire committee after his arrest warrant was lifted.
Group that killed Usman
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, maintained then that fighters with standing court cases, including Tundoc, should be temporarily immune from arrest and prosecution to avoid misunderstandings that could derail the peace process.
The following year, in May 2015, Tundoc’s group claimed responsibility for killing Filipino terrorist and bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman who had a $1-million bounty on his head. The MILF operation was purportedly intended to redeem Tundoc and his group after being implicated in the 25 Mamasapano incident.
In his sworn statement, Utto said, “Their group’s presence was tolerated by AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) soldiers and policemen who were guarding the premises 50 meters away from the polling center.”
He pointed out that he immediately informed Lt. Col. Warlito Limit, AFP battalion commander of the 2nd Mechanized Brigade stationed in Barangay Salbu, of the presence of Tundoc’s group.
But all Limit told him was, “I already gave instructions to my men.”
“I was able to observe that initially, the Tundoc group and their armed men had the identified supporters of incumbent Mayor Dimaukom line up in the voting center and precincts therein to cast their votes, while my supporters and other voters/individuals were given a hard time entering. To sort the voters, the Tundoc group resorted to asking individuals ‘LP ka ba? (Are you LP?)’ Only a few of my supporters were brave enough to make their way into the voting center,” Utto said.
He further noted that as soon as most of Dimaukom’s supporters had cast their votes, Tundoc’s men “heightened their acts of intimidation and harassment” against voters who just arrived by allegedly displaying firearms, blocking the way and shouting at them.
Ring on pinkie
Dimaukom’s other supporters, who arrived late and had not voted yet, were easily given access to the polling centers and allowed to loiter. They were identified, according to Utto, through rings on their pinkie, pink clothing or LP baller bracelets.
Pink is the “color of love and peace,” Dimaukom said in previous media interviews. The incumbent Datu Saudi Ampatuan mayor wears pink shirts, drives around in a pink Hummer and built a pink mosque. Shocking pink was his wife’s favorite shade, he said.
Intimidation at the polling center, according to Utto, escalated quickly when Tundoc’s men fired their guns in the air and threw stones to prevent more votes to be cast for candidates other than Dimaukom. Voters, who did not support the incumbent mayor’s reelection bid, fled out of fear.
It was only after Utto’s nephew urged the soldiers posted near the polling center to do something that they fired warning shots directed at Tundoc’s group.
The MILF men stopped, with a large number of them leaving the area at noon. After a few minutes, the remaining members of Tundoc’s group allegedly resumed to harass voters supporting other candidates.
Utto said he learned later that members of the Tundoc group had transferred to Datu Pendililang Piang Elementary School, the designated voting center for Barangays Elian, Gawang, Kitango, Madia and Salbu, five of eight barangays comprising Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.
It was in one of the voting precincts in the school that the video footage he showed the Inquirer of alleged poll fraud was taken by a supporter, who managed to slip through.
Frantic ballot shading
Normina Taha, wife of an UNA candidate who was among the few people who was able to enter the polling center, said she went to Precinct 35 covering Barangay Salbu to check on her husband’s poll watchers but stumbled onto Dimaukom’s supporters frantically shading bundles of ballots and Tundoc’s daughter feeding them into the VCM.
All of it, she told the Inquirer, happened as armed MILF men and a board of election inspectors (BEI) member watched.
Tundoc’s daughter, wife of an LP candidate who was shown wearing a pink hijab in the video, and another woman, a sister of another member of the ruling party, were allegedly controlling the transmission of the votes.
Neither woman, Taha told the Inquirer, was in any way connected with the Commission on Elections or Smartmatic. With a report from Nico Alconaba, Inquirer Mindanao
(To be continued)