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Barangay officials loiter in ARMM registration sites; gun ban till July 23

Text by Artha Kira Paredes and Amiel Mark Cagayan

Photos and Video by Amiel Mark Cagayan

VERA Files

COTABATO CITY— Barangay officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao have been sighted in registration sites since Day 1 of the ongoing general voters' registration, in violation of election rules promulgated by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

This is one of the observations of Task Force Rehistro (TFR), according to Father David Procalla who is one of the co-chairpersons of TFR and head of the civil society watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) in ARMM.

TFR was created under Executive Order 20 signed by OIC Regional Governor Mujiv S. Hataman on July 2, 2012, and is headed by the regional governor, with the PPCRV regional head, Police Regional Director Chief Supt. Mario Avenido and Commanding General Rey Ardo of the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army as co-chairs.

Members include representatives from 12 government agencies and
nongovernment organizations.

Its mandate is to "primarily carry out the conduct and implementation of thorough and massive campaign for the new general registration of voters throughout" ARMM.

Procalla said the presence of barangay officials in the registration areas is a clear violation of Comelec Resolution 9475 that sets the rules and regulations in the conduct of general registrations in ARMM.

Under Section 7(d) of the resolution, which was promulgated en banc last June 21, "any barangay official, whether elected or appointed" is not allowed to enter the registration center and should be 10 meters away.

Only the election officers, assistant election officers, operators of the voters' registration machines (VRMs), the applicant and other persons authorized by Comelec are allowed inside the registration centers.

The officials could be at the registration sites "out of good will" but it is "not good to insist on being present" because this questions the credibility of the election process, Procalla said.

"It raises doubts and eyebrows," he added.

Another observation is that police and military have been helping in the registration but he said is not a question of anomaly but of restrictions on the rules.

Also under Section 7 or "persons not allowed to enter" the registration centers are members of the police, military, "peace officer or any armed person belonging to any extra-legal police agency, special forces, reaction forces, strike forces…para-military forces" and "all other kinds of armed or unarmed extra-legal police forces."

He said police and military should be given authority to strictly implement distance so that there will be no need for the EO to call the attention of the security personnel.

A policeman stands guard at the registration in Timanan, South Upi, Maguindanao. Photo by AMIEL MARK CAGAYAN.A policeman stands guard at the registration in Timanan, South Upi, Maguindanao. Photo by AMIEL MARK CAGAYAN.

But generally, Procalla said that except for the tension on the first day, the ongoing registrations are generally going well. He said there are
1,297 PPCRV volunteers in place who have been assigned to monitor VRM each.

Myrna Jo Henry, TFR representative and information officer of the
Bureau of Public Information, said that there are 1,046 VRM machines in
ARMM now and 400 others on standby.

As of April 2011, the total registered voters of ARMM was 1,778,817
and with each machine with a minimum target of 170 to 200 registrants
a day, 10 days is ample time to register, she said.

The predicament is just how to convince eligible voters to register
within the 10-day period, she said.

Meanwhile, the gun ban will still be in effect until July 23. The registration will end on July 18.

Earlier, members of the 51st Infantry Battalion of the Army confiscated an M-14 rifle from a civilian who was involved in a family feud in Barangay Purug in Pualas, Lanao del Sur.

Regional Police Chief Avenido said the gun ban prevented armed groups from terrorizing and harassing voters in ARMM every time there are activities related to politics.

ARMM is composed of the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, and the provinces of
Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Basilan.

Based on Commission on Election (COMELEC) Resolution No. 9479 which
was promulgated last June 27 in relation to the ARMM general registration, the scope of gun-ban will be increased to areas outside of ARMM that have large populations of Muslims, including the cities of Cotabato, Zamboanga and Isabela; and the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato.

Based on the loose firearms assessment of the PNP for the whole country last 2010, ARMM ranks second in having the most number of loose firearms which was estimated at 114,189.

Maguindanao is still in a state of emergency, two years after the heinous Maguindanao Massacre on November 2009 where 58 were killed, including family and relatives of incumbent Maguindanao Governor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu and 33 journalists.

(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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