New System of Elections, Same type of Electoral Violence, Old Faces of Winners

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Fast election results, early proclamations. This has been the order of the day 72 hours after election day. The much dreaded cases of Failure of Elections or No Elections which many expected did not happen. Chief of Staff Delfin Bangit of the Philippine Army had this smug look on his face seemingly wanting to say, I-told-you-so to his detractors. He has been openly declaring that he will support the Constitution and that he will not allow for an extension of GMA’s term.
Yet, despite the early results that many are now raving at, stories of violence and electoral fraud are ripe in many areas, not only in Mindanao but as well as different areas in the Visayas and Luzon. That, even until now, these places still has to transmit their election results.
The Interfaith Movement for Peaceful Elections (Im4Peace), an aggrupation of different groups and individuals with membership coming from Zamboanga del Sur, Pagadian City, the twin Provinces of Lanao, Iligan City, Maguindanao, Cotabato City and Sultan Kudarat, collaborating with the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the media, in monitoring the elections is more worried on the seeming complacency and short-sightedness with which many sections of the society are viewing the election results. Everyone is so agog on replacing GMA that to see Noynoy Aquino swiftly leading the Presidential pack with a very wide margin against his opponents has somehow lulled the people into believing that everything is in order with the recent elections.

In Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte there were some areas where people were no longer able to vote. One Im4Peace volunteer who was excited to vote for the first Automated Election System traveled very early on Sunday morning from Cotabato City to go home to her hometown. She encouraged her family and neighbors to go to the polling place early on election day. They even discussed on the candidates whom they would vote and painstakingly prepared the list of their choices. But, their eagerness was doused when they were not given their ballots. They were just asked by the BEI to sign in the Voters List. She has to go home to Lanao Norte and spend hard-earned money for her transportation only to get disenfranchised. The pre-shading of ballots was replicated in Malabang,Lanao Sur. According to one volunteer from the place, BEIs brought home the ballots on the eve before the elections and distributed them to voters already shaded.
Another volunteer in Matuber, Datu Blah Sinsuat, a coastal town in Maguindanao was a victim of election manipulation. They were told to vote straight for a certain local party. The volunteer related that while she queued to vote, she hid her own list of candidates. But an old lady openly refused to vote for Andal Ampatuan,Sr., the vice gubernatorial candidate of the said party. She cried so hard that she got her ballot wet with her tears. The PCOS machine rejected her tear-stained ballot.

In Benuan, Kuya, one of the barangays in South Upi, BEIs gave priority numbers to loyalists of a certain gubernatorial candidates. Thus, out of the more than 2,000 registered voters, only more than 900 were able to vote. Election results still have to be transmitted as the PCOS machines broke down. In another barangay, in Pilar, South Upi, presence of armed men associated with a local candidate was highly visible near the polling place. Supporters of other local candidates are presently staging a protest to prevent the delivery of the results claiming that the election was rigged in favor of Ombra Sinsuat and Andal Ampatuan,Sr.

Two voters from Datu Odin Sinsuat tearfully called local radio DXMS complaining that their ballots were already pre-shaded, specifically for the space for Governor.
In Pagadian City, massive vote buying was witnessed by volunteers. BEIs serving the elections were either related or supporters of the ruling Cerilles couple. While in some areas in Maguindanao, SMARTMATIC technicians were either related or recommended by local politicians.
Meanwhile, a member of the International Observer Mission- COMPACT for Peaceful and Honest Elections shared that in the following polling places in Maguindanao: Broce Central School, Shariff Aguak Elem School, Ampatuan Elementary School, Datu Luminog Mangilin Elementray School, Kurentin Elementary School and Datu Paglas, Elementary School, PCOS machines malfunctioned, used ballots piled atop the ballot boxes, BEIs are without IDs, voters list tattered , no verification of voters were done, some voters not on the list, among other irregularities.
The election results in the first twenty-four hours after elections seemed a bursting dam. But now, election results came in trickles as election results in problematic areas cannot be transmitted for one reason or another. In most areas where winners were already proclaimed, old faces still dominate. While there is a new system of elections, it didn’t usher in new and fresh faces to serve our government.
Senators leading the senate race are dominated by old time politicians with the exemption of Hontiveros and Guingona. The House of Representatives may have a handful of new faces but it’s still dominated with traditional politicians and political dynasties. Much more so in the local government units, where electoral violence is more prevalent, political dynasties and warlords still have a strong hold on their respective domains.
For GMA’s part, while everyone was busy with the elections, she sneaked in an appointment for a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, despite the apparent no vacancy of the position. Chief Justice Reynato Puno still has to retire this coming May 17,2010. GMA could have very well left the appointment of the new Chief Justice to the incoming president, but she didn’t.
So, one would wonder, can Noynoy really bring in our much longed change and hope for this government?
13th May 2010
Cotabato City

A People’s Resistance Against Political Dynasty

Iligan City, Lanao del Norte- A human barricade was mounted in front of the Iligan City Legislative Hall since Sunday afternoon, May 20, 2007 as supporters of leading District 1 Congressional contender Vicente “Varf” Belmonte, an opposition candidate, gave their support to the latter’s petition to the COMELEC asking for a change of venue in the canvassing of Iligan City votes. The mass protest was premised on the incident of three (3) ballot boxes forcibly opened inside the Mindanao Civic Center in Tubod, Lanao del Norte,where the Provincial Canvassing is done, sometime in the early morning of May 20, 2007. The alleged ballot boxes were said to be COCs from the municipalities of Kauswagan, Maigo and Bacolod

As per Election procedures and regulations go, canvassing of the certificate of votes from the cities and municipalities within the province of Lanao del Norte should be conducted at the Provincial Capitol. However, with the incident that took place last Sunday, District 1 Congressional candidate Vicente “Varf” Belmonte, who is the lead contender among five (5) congressional candidates (among them Nikki Badelles, who placed second in the ongoing canvassing, Imelda “Angging” Dimaporo, at third, Atty. Leo Zaragoza placing fourth, and Uriel G. Borja at fifth place ), feared that the same will happened to the Iligan City votes that will be brought to the Provincial Capitol for canvassing. It was with this premise, that Mr. Belmonte filed a petition before the Regional Director of COMELEC Region X, Atty. Nicodemo Ferrer, for a change of venue.

Mr. Belmonte’s supporters then massed to the Iligan City Hall to prevent the local COMELEC to bring the ballot boxes to the Provincial Capitol in Tubod, Lanao del Norte in the afternoon of May 20, 2007. Belmonte’s group contended, that the provincial COMELEC should not bring nor allow the ballot boxes to be brought to the Provincial Capitol in Lanao del Norte pending the COMELEC Region X’s decision to their petition. The group held vigil since Sunday night infront of the Iligan City Legislative Hall and prayed from morning until afternoon of Monday, May 21, 2007. The barricade started at around 12noon when news of the arrival of the supporters of congressional candidate Imelda Dimaporo reached the gathered group. Emotions ran high when the latter’s supporters together with COMELEC deputies from the province arrived, accompanied by uniformed military personnel, who are allegedly will be accompanying the COMELEC officials who will bring the ballot boxes to the Provincial Capitol. The latter’s group where prevented from getting near the Legislative Building, where the Provincial COMELEC Officer, Atty. Hamilton Cuevas and others where staying with the ballot boxes, by the human barricade which prevented them access to the building.

The tension lasted more or less three hours as the vehicles bearing the Dimaporo supporters were put in idle, as if readying for any eventualities, while negotiations were undergoing. The human barricade also stood their ground. It was only when Atty Cuevas issued an order to the COMELEC deputies from the Provincial Capitol and to their escorts that they cannot bring with them the ballot boxes pending the decision of the COMELEC National Office, that the atmosphere around the vicinity of the Iligan City Hall visibly lightened.

The proclaimed Mayor of Iligan City also called on for sober heads and explained to the people the procedures of the canvassing of votes. Though he allowed the people to remain within the premises of the City Hall grounds provided that the assembly would be a peaceful one and ordered for the city police to keep guard and keep the peace within the area.

Political Harassments

It can be recalled that on the eve before the May 14 elections, news broke out that the residence of Congressional Candidate Belmonte was “raided” and searched. According to Chito Cruz, one of the supporters of Mr. Belmonte, the “raid” was a political harassment as the search warrant used by the searching officers is obtained from a Manila Regional Court despite the presence of local courts in Iligan. He said that the search produced one shotgun that was license, albeit expired.

Other harassments that they allegedly experienced were during the counting and tallying of votes in the Mindanao Civic Center, Tubod, Lanao del Norte as they were not allowed inside for the counting and tallying of votes. Some of the poll watchers also narrated that they were verbally threatened and harassed by provincial guards guarding the vicinity with words to the effect…”Gusto mo mukaon ug bala?” (Do you want to eat bullets…?)

Based on unofficial NAMFREL results, Mr. Belmonte emerged as the lead and winner among the seven (7) municipalities and one city covering District 1 (Linamon, Kauswagan, Maigo, Bacolod, Kolambogan, Tubod, Baroy and Iligan City). In Iligan City alone Mr. Belmonte’s votes is fifty-eigth thousand nine hundred sixteen (58,916), Atty Nikki Badelles’ votes is forty-five thousand eighty (45,080), and Angging Dimaporo’s votes is forty-two thousand nine hundred fifty seven (42,957). Nikki Badelles already conceded defeat. Both Badelles and Dimaporo are administration-backed candidates.

Challenging a Political Dynasty

Historically, for almost four (4) decades, the Dimaporos had always been the ruling elite and reigning political dynasty in the province of Lanao del Norte. All those years, they remained uncontested or if they were the opposing party/ies have no way of defeating the Dimaporos with the latter’s vast political clout and resources.

The latter were allegedly legendary for their cheating and harassment tactics. For the election 2007, Abdullah Dimakuta-Dimaporo ran and was proclaimed for the 2nd Congressional District, Angging Quibranza-Dimaporo for the 1st Congressional District and the couple’s son Khalid Q. Dimaporo vied and also proclaimed for the gubernatorial seat.

On the other hand, a party-list group also joined in the barricade to also protect their votes. The Anak-Mindanao party-list which got the highest votes in Iligan City among the more than ninety (90) party-list groups in this year’s elections, called for the respect and protection of the sanctity of the ballot and for the will of the people to be uphold and respected. The group also feared that their votes will also be affected especially that they have to put up with many administration-backed party-list groups which are far from being marginalized and unrepresented sectors in the society. While Anak-Mindanao have a concrete mass-based in the Province of Lanao del Norte with its member people’s organizations having a wide and organized mass base, the party-list that is topping the canvassing in Lanao Norte is that of YACAP- a party-list group of retired military generals backed by the Arroyo administration. It is also a known fact in the Province, that the Dimaporos also fielded their own party-list group, Action for Dynamic Development (ADD) with a relative as one of the nominees. Based on NAMFREL results as of May 19, 2007, YACAP garnered 13, 892 while ANAK-Mindanao got 11,679. In Iligan City, AMIN got 7,000 votes.

Breaking down the Barricades

The supporters of congressional candidate Vicente “varf” Belmonte continued their barricade at the legislative building of Iligan City Hall. There were presence of Angging Dimaporo’s supporters not far from where Belmonte’s supporters stayed. The COMELEC had given its final decision denying Mr. Belmonte’s petition and to have the provincial canvassing in the Provincial Capitol.In said decision, it also ordered for the Iligan City ballot boxes to be taken to the Province.

It was at 3:30 in the afternoon of May 22, 2007 when two platoons of riot police of Region X equipped with complete riot dispersal gears arrived at Iligan City Hall. The arrival of the said anti-riot police created an atmosphere of tension and apprehension among the supporters of Vicente “Varf” Belmonte.

The riot police, headed by a certain Col. Nuneza, were ordered to disperse the supporters of Belmonte barricading at the City Hall with maximum tolerance. As the riot police positioned themselves to disperse the supporters, the rattling of their batutas against their shields signaled the start of the dispersal. The riot police advance themselves by pushing the barricading supporters. Belmonte’s supporters on the other hand struggled not to let the riot police come and advanced its position and get into the entrance of the Legislative Hall.

The tension mounted when the riot police aggressively advance their position and started hitting Belmonte’s barricading supporters using their batutas and shields. Marlyn Masayon, one of Belmonte’s supporters said that the riot police were the one that started the provocations by hitting them with batutas. She even made mentioned of one riot police named Abatayo who allegedly started hitting her and the other supporters even if they did not do anything to deserve such act. Some of the supporters had started throwing stones against the advancing riot police which further aggravated the tension.

As observed by the human rights volunteers present in the place, four (4) of the riot police bear no name plates. When the riot police was asked who their officer in command was, they refused to answer. In fact, the Col. Nuneza they were saying as head of the riot police was in civilian attire. The riot police failed to catch a supporter of Dimaporo who carried with him a knife.

There were reported injured caused by the violent dispersals, among those where: Salamona Ramos, 50 yrs old of Upper Hinaplanon, Rolly Dagatan, age 22 of Tipanoy, Josephine Bustillo, age 43 of Lombagon Brgy. San Roque and Peter Quidlat, 26 yrs old of Canaway who was bought to Iligan City hospital. Quidlat’s medical record showed that he had a 2cm linear lacerated wound at the forehead, allegedly battered by the riot police.

The tension grew even further when Col. Rannes, Iligan City Chief of Police, announced that the Certificate of Canvass (COCs) will be taken to Tubod, Lanao del Norte for the Provincial canvassing despite the assurance he gave that it will be secured by the riot police of Region X that will also escort the bringing of the COCs for the Provincial Canvassing.

Few minutes after, when the supporters of Belmonte were pre-occupied guarding the front of the legislative building, unknown to everybody, the ballot boxes were being slipped at the back of the Legislative hall and taken to a vehicle. It was only when the supporters saw the police running and getting in to the vehicle they realized that the ballot boxes were already outside of the legislative building. There was an outburst of emotions and some of Belmonte’s women supporters started to cry. The riot police then followed and was transported by a six-wheeled army truck. Because of anger and disbelief, the supporters of Belmonte started throwing stones at the army truck.

When Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Ll. Cruz arrived at the City Hall, he was confronted with insults and mockeries from Belmonte’s supporters. The supporters said he was too late and the incident already happened.