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Exorcising the ghosts of registrations past

An Army soldier calls out the names of the registrants outside the voter registration center in Dinganun Primary …

By Carolyn O. Arguillas, MindaNews and VERA Files

Last of two parts

MAGUINDANAO —  If  the ghosts of registrations past are to be exorcised and electoral reforms are to take root in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) or the future  "new autonomous political entity," apathy must give way to active participation of  the citizenry to ensure the ill practices of the past are not allowed to pass this time,  Rasol Mitmug, OIC Speaker of the ARMM's Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) said.

Mitmug, who hails from Lanao del Sur, urged ARMM residents, election monitors and other civil society representatives to file formal complaints before the Election Registration Board as soon as the lists of applicants are posted on July 31.

The new voters' list-up began on July 9 and will end on July 18.

According to  the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the last day to file opposition to the applications for registration is on August 6 and hearings will be conducted on the approval or disapproval of applications on August 13 to 17.

M itmug told MindaNews that the 27-member RLA did not have a session last Monday to allow members to monitor the conduct of the registration in their respective districts.

He said he received complaints from the assemblymen who received similar complaints from residents in their districts such as hakot (hauling) of  registrants, multiple registrants, children lining up to register, slow process of registration, among others.

The Speaker, a lawyer, reminded RLA members that "for these complaints to be actionable, there must be formal complaints and documentation."

He stressed the importance of formalizing the complaints and documenting the irregularities so they can be properly guided in future legislations.

ARMM's OIC Executive Secretary, Anwar Malang expressed disappointment over the reported employment of children and outsiders to register. "We thought all the while they (politicians) will be regular in their activities," he told MindaNews on Wednesday.

He said the intent of the new listing was to cleanse the voters' list and yet, "baka lalong…." (it might just….)

"Electoral tourism"

Indah Enriquez, chair of the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (C-Care), said the ongoing registration is being referred to as "electoral tourism" as registrants "fly, ride, take a ship/boat for free courtesy of our politicians in ARMM."

What is also alarming, she added,  is that a number of parents insist on having their underage children register, some even threatening the election officer.

She  said one of the problems noted is that  the election officers manning the registration centers come from regions outside the ARMM. "Tanggap lang sila ng mga applicants kahit pa underage" (they just receive applicants even if they underage and would just leave it to the Election Registration Board for the inclusion and exclusion of applicants.

Ardith Comin, Acting Election Officer of Sta. Rita, Pampanga who is serving as interviewer at the voter's registration center in Kamasi Elementary School, Ampatuan town, told MindaNews before registration started Monday that their task is merely ministerial.

"Tangap lang kami ng tanggap basta may requirements. Ministerial lang kami. Hindi kami ang mag-aaprove," (We just receive and receive provided they have the requirements. We are merely ministerial. We don't approve the applications), she said.

But Comin said they make notations if they doubt the registrant's age.

No failure of registration

On Thursday afternoon, Malang convened the ARMM's Task Force Rehistro, a coalition of the regional government and civil society groups, to assess the first four days of the 10-day registration.

He said the registration in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur yielded 300,000 applicants in the first three days. He estimates 800,000 more will register by July 18 as they expect 1.1 million registered voters, down from 1.77 million.

Malang acknowledged that the concerns raised during the meeting included the use of children to register,  "hakutan" (hauling) of registrants, and presence of military, police and barangay officials inside the registration centers.

He said they appealed to the barangay officials to stay away and told the police and military commanders that their task is not inside the center but to oversee the security situation.

He said members of the Cabinet have been deployed to also monitor the registration process.

Despite the complaints, Malang does  not consider the registration a failure. "Not yet a failure," he said, adding the reported irregularities had been forwarded to the Comelec.

Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo said he received a similar feedback.

"We have provided full support to Comelec and PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting).  They have to work on the exclusions. Will see how the final outcome looks like," he said. He vowed they will "still pursue cleansing even after registration."

For OIC Assemblywoman Samira Gutoc, the impact of the registration is "less obvious now but with a long-term impact in rasing the fighting spirit of the common Mohammad and Aisha  in using social media to air his grievance against the erring Comelec and politico."

She said they expect a "massive reduction and delisting of the fakes" through the biometrics system and the use of AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) matching.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman told MindaNews on Saturday that the registration is far from being a failure.

"Malayo naman sa failure. Napaka-minor ng mga incidents at yung ilang complaints. I urge those who witnessed irregularities to come out in the open. We are very much willing to assist and help them."

Mitmug said the registration is "not a total failure" as he pointed to several gains such as fewer multiple registrants and  that  "hakot" has been controlled. . "We cannot deny these  are still happening because there are reports but this reporting is a process of moving forward. What is important is to know the defects so these can be cured."

(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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