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ARMM task force to transform into poll watchdog

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Text by Artha Kira Paredes, Photos and video by Amiel Mark Cagayan, VERA Files

COTABATO CITY— The task force created to get people to take part in the recently concluded general voters' registration in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will become an election monitoring group in the 2013 midterm polls.

Task Force Rehistro chairman and ARMM OIC Regional Governor Mujiv  Hataman said TFR will change its name but retain its members and focus on electoral reforms after the Election Registration Board (ERB) hearings.

"Tuloy-tuloy hanggang eleksyon (It will continue until the elections)," Hataman said of the group, which is composed of government and civil society. "Actually yun din ang main reason kung bakit decided akong huwag tumakbo muna- mag focus sa electoral reform  (Focusing on electoral reform is one of the reasons why I have decided not to run)."

Hataman, who signed the creation of TFR through Executive Order 20 last July 2, said he does not see any conflict of interest in heading TFR since he has no plans to run for any post next election year and wants to "rest (from politics) for three years."

TFR is currently co-chaired by Parish Pastoral for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) regional head Father David Procalla, Police Regional Director Chief Supt. Mario Avenido and Commanding General Rey Ardo of the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. It was created because of the "need to ensure a holistic and synchronized support" the general registration of voters.

Members have been attending regular meetings to keep everyone abreast of updates and incidents related to the registrations which were conducted July 9 to 18. The ERB hearings for the approval and disapproval of registration applications will take place September 20-26.

The task force is composed of representatives from the Commission on Election (Comelec), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and non-government organizations such as the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms, Inc (C-CARE), the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) and the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc.

The election monitor will hear and address poll related complaints from the entire region Hataman said.  Besides, he said civil society organizations working on electoral reform such as C-CARE and PPCRV are already members of the group.

Aside from focusing on electoral reforms, Hataman said that he is bent on vanquishing other "ghosts" in the region before ending his term.

In his last State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Benigno S. Aquino called Hataman a "certified ghost buster" and praised him for his discovery of ghost students, schools, roads and teachers in ARMM.

Aquino added in his SONA that "ang mga multo sa voters list, mapapatahimik na ang kaluluwa (the souls of ghost voters will now rest in peace)."

Hataman said that the mere fact that the registered voters of ARMM decreased from more than 1.7 million to more than 1.5 after the re-registration is already a milestone under his administration and "step toward moving forward."

He said the number of voters is still expected to decline between 1.3 to 1.4 million after Comelec removes the names of minors and multiple registrants from the list.

From vanquishing ghost voters, he said he is also looking into reports that there are ghost towns and barangays in ARMM but added that he cannot yet divulge details as these are "second hand reports" which are "subject for validation."

Several NGOs in ARMM believe that the effort to pad the voters list in the region could be attributed to local politicians who do not want to have their towns and barangays dissolved because of the very low number of registered voters.

Before his stint in government, Hataman who is a computer engineering graduate worked in different NGOs as community organizer, program coordinator and executive director.

(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.")

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