Text by Artha Kira Paredes
Photos and Video by Amiel Mark Cagayan
UPI, Maguindanao—The local Commission on Election (Comelec) here spent Sunday making sure that all teachers and school employees in the municipality were registered as voters.
Election Officer Flordelina Muñoz said allotting Sunday for the registration of education personnel was the local Comelec's initiative so that teachers can serve in the upcoming elections.
"If they are not registered, they cannot serve," she said in between processing registration forms at the municipal gymnasium at the Nuro Poblacion here.
During elections, teachers serve as board of election inspectors (BEI) to facilitate the voting process in precincts nationwide.
Comelec Resolution 8716 promulgated in December 2009 states that in appointing teachers to the BEIs, preference will be given to public school teachers "who efficiently served in the May 14, 2007 National and Local Elections, and who are registered voters of the municipality/city"
Muñoz also said she did not want to deprive teachers of their right to vote. "Kung walang special day, baka di makasingit, malalayo pa naman minsan ang assignment nila minsan, (If we don't give them a special day, they might not be able to register considering that some of them work in far-flung areas), she said.
The previous day, Saturday, was slated for students. Muñoz said that students do not only need a certificate of registration to vote, it is also one of the requirements when taking board exams.
Comelec prioritizes teachers and school employees during Sunday registration in Upi, Maguindanao. Photo by AMIEL …
To inform qualified constituents that Saturday was for students' registration and Sunday for teachers, daily announcements were made over the local community FM radio station DXUP 105.5, days before the start of the July 9-18 Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) registrations, she said.
While each voter registration machine (VRM) is expected to process between 170 to 200 applications per day, the single VRM in Nuro is processing between 300 to 350 forms a day, Munoz said. Based on the 2011 Comelec data, Upi North had 26,223 registered voters.
For the ongoing registration, only 15 VRMs are assigned for the town's 23 barangays. This means that in 16 villages, two barangays share one machine.
Muñoz said her request for one VRM per barangay and two in Nuro was denied by Comelec ARMM but her request to re-cluster some of the barangays based on proximity to one another and number of expected registrants was granted.
Nuro alone had 3,140 registered voters as of 2011 so the registration center has to process at least 300 registrations a day during the 10-day registration, the EO said. Although registrants are usually at the gymnasium between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the Comelec personnel serve beyond those hours because they do administrative work until 11 p.m. then go back the next day at 7:30 a.m., she said.
Of the 300 control numbers issued for expected registrants on Sunday, there were only 12 left as of 9:30 a.m.
Adela Alquizalas, 48, Grade II teacher of the Nuro Central Elementary School, said it was a good thing that Comelec gave them Sunday to register because her pupils were at an age when they couldn't be left alone.
Virginia Javier, 55, Grade V teacher of the same school, said registering during school days would affect classes because the teachers would have to fall in line and wait for their turns to register. But for the Sunday registration, the Comelec accommodated even non-teachers who were unable to register the previous day.
Javier said there are 28 existing primary and elementary public schools in the municipality.
Mercedita Monteclaro, 62, a retired teacher of the Notre Dame of Upi who now manages the school canteen, said her work requires her to stay at the canteen from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which made the Sunday registration a welcome initiative.
Guidance counselor Josefina Cristobal, 58, of the Upi Agricultural School said she would have requested for a leave had Comelec not been able to arrange a day for them to register.
Baizuhiera S. Kanakan, 26, who does admin work at the same school as Cristobal's said the Sunday registration is "helpful" because she has no time on weekdays.
"Ito lang ang chance (this is the only chance), she said adding that Comelec has also been "very accommodating" because faculty and staff of their school were given forms early last week so that they can duly accomplish and submit Friday.
"Mahirap iwanan ang admin work, mag-overlap yan kinabukasan at kailangan planuhin ang work (It's difficult to leave admin work because you tend you have backlogs if you do not follow a work plan), she said.
Evaluating the ongoing registrations in his town, Mayor Ramon Alejandro Piang Sr said, he has not received any report on any "unpleasant incident."
The only problem town officials encountered was the transportation of machines and Comelec personnel to the interior barangays because the rains made the dirt roads impassable, he said.
He estimates that the town has a population of 54,000 with 43 percent lumad or indigenous groups, 33 percent Christian, 23 percent Muslim and two percent belonging to other groups.
(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.")