By Artha Kira Paredes, VERA Files
COTABATO CITY— The significant drop in the number of registered voters is one development civil society organizations here consider as "positive" in the just concluded voters' registration in Lanao del Sur, one of the five provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
But many old practices persisted, including registration of minors and "hakutan" or transporting residents by the hundreds to register to different registration centers, they said.
The Commission on Elections has yet to release the official tally of the 10-day registration that ended Wednesday. But poll watchdog groups affiliated with Reform ARMM Now (RAN) counted 433,830 registrants in Lanao del Sur, or about 17 percent less than the 522,417 listed in the province's voided voter book.
RAN based its tally on figures compiled by Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms, Inc (C-CARE) and Maranao People Development Center (Maradeca), said RAN chairperson Salic Ibrahim.
Ibrahim told VERA Files in an interview after a forum held by Task Force Rehistro and C-Care at El Comedor on Thursday to assess the ARMM general registration that the decrease of registrants could be an indicator that NGOs had waged an effective campaign against double registrations.
Part of RAN's campaign was to tell people that double registration would make it difficult for them to get passports and clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation, he said.
In 2010, Comelec Resolution 8882 listed Lanao del Sur as the second province nationwide with the most number of identical records when cross-checked with the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
A total of 11,685 identical records were found in the province. Maguindanao had the most number at 16,418 while the rest of the ARMM provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were also in the list that also counted Pampanga, Rizal, Batangas and Isabela City.
Under Article XXII Section 261 or prohibited acts of the Omnibus Election Code, "any person who, being a registered voter, registers anew without filing an application for cancellation in his previous registration" is guilty of an election offense.
Violators face imprisonment of up to six years and are "not be subject to probation."
But like in other ARMM provinces, Ibrahim said cases of hakutan and the registration of minors have persisted.
Some Lanao del Sur politicians were fearful that their barangays would be dissolved if they did not produce enoughvoters, especially since most barangays are small, he said.
This practice can also be attributed to the desire of political leaders to keep their posts and Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), or the local government's share in national revenues, Ibrahim added.
But more than the position and IRA, many politicians in the province still see politics as a business opportunity, especially since these leaders sell their constituents' votes to national and local candidates during elections, he said.
Ibrahim said town and barangay officials also tried to take control of the registrations by making sure that their constituents who will most likely vote for them registered first.
This was both beneficial and bad because by installing watchers and with the barangay officials themselves keeping a close watch on the registrations, they were able to spot non-residents, he said.
The RAN chairperson said some centers also allowed registrations until night when Comelec guidelines for the ARRM voter listup limited the registration hours to 8 a.m. to 5p.m.
One incident of registration-related violence listed by the Philippine National Police in the region took place in Marawi on July 10. A policeman shot four men, including the barangay chairman at the office of the Election Officer in Barangay Maliwanag in Bayang.
Marawi is Lanao del Sur's capital and lone city. The province has 39 towns, 1, 159 barangays and a population of 1,138,544 as of 2007.
Seven other incidents, ranging from shooting and brawling to strafing, also occurred in the province between July 10 and 14, but these were not classified as registration-related in the police report on the general registration of voters in ARMM.
During the registrations, Ibrahim said RAN also tried to monitor persons with disabilities (PWDs) but the latter were not visible.
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews, The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")