Posted by: piom2010 | June 1, 2010

AREA PROFILE: Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao

LANAO DEL SUR Province is home to Maranaos, which means “People of the Lake”  and one of the Islamized thirteen ethno-linguistic tribes of the Bangsamoro (a term that means ‘Moro nation’).  The province, as a part of the perennial poorest Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is one the poorest performers in terms of human development according to Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) in 2005. PHDR in 2008/2009 also pointed out that Lanao del Sur is at the bottom 10 of the provinces in the Philippines in terms of real per capita income, human development index and gender-related index.  According to the same report, it is the 5th poorest province in the country.

Furthermore, beyond the boundaries of the province, discrimination and exclusion confront Muslims thereby narrowing their choices like in job hiring, school admission, house leasing.  Muslims are also stereotyped  as cheaters with a culture of violence.

Lanao del Sur never fails to get an extraordinary nationwide interest come every election time because of numerous cases of poll-related fraud and violence that characterize the elections in the province. In a backdrop of a province holding records of high poverty incidence, a ballot is a material object treated as property which can be sold to the highest bidders.

Political warlordism also reigns to ensure political obedience.  Aside from the use of the state armed forces to quell the political enemy, family affiliation contributes to the perpetuation of warlordism where family members serve as foot soldiers.  The history of rido (clan feud) among the candidates also fuels electoral violence.

Marawi City is the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur, which is located in Western Mindanao, south of the Philippines. It has a population of 131, 090 (2000 government census) while Lanao del Sur has an approximate population of 668,860 (2000 government census), with approximately 390,000 registered voters in 2007.

Its economy is primarily agricultural. Small industries are engaged in garment-making, mat and malong weaving, woodcraft, brassware-making and other metal craft. Social services in the city are sorely lacking.

During the 2007 elections, the following were seen as the more common forms of electoral fraud and violence:

  • Voters having more than one finger marked with ink;
  • Voters freely admitting to having voted several times and paid a minimum of P50 for every vote for municipal and city councilors to as much as P2,000 per vote for mayoralty candidates;
  • Poll watchers sitting beside voters and dictating the names to be written in the ballots;
  • Peso bills stapled on sample ballots and campaign leaflets being passed on to the voters through window grills;
  • Ballpens in voting booths with stickers bearing candidate’s names written on them;
  • Minors as young as 15 years old allowed to vote;
  • Voters’ list are not posted outside precincts, and no Secrecy Folders and list of candidates for national and local positions;
  • Members of the Philippine National Police-Regional Special Action Force dictating to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) when the precincts would be closed, while carrying assault and sniper rifles inside the precincts.

Also in 2007, thirteen municipalities of Lanao del Sur declared a failure of election, and postponed the voting by 12 days after poll officers refused to serve in the polls because of harassment from armed men believed to be aligned with warring political candidates.  Armed goons reportedly roamed several towns, firing their guns, scaring people and election officials.  The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism also noted the unusually high increase in the number of registered voters.  From 275,572 in 2004, the number rose to 396,722, an increase of 43.9 percent in three years. Of the 13 municipalities holding special elections, two towns had an increase of over 100 percent that, according to National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) Chairperson Hadji Abdullah Dalidig, is “statistically improbable.”  No less than the then  COMELEC Chair, Benjamin Abalos, admitted that there were more than 100,000 multiple registrants in ARMM that were not excluded from the voter’s list in the region’s elections on August 2005. In Masiu town, Kontra-Daya, another anti-fraud body, noted voters who were not marked with indelible ink on their fingers, and when asked, casually answered, “so that we can vote again.” They also documented cases where BEIs deliberately did not read votes cast for some senatorial candidates, and empty official tally sheets used as a table cloth.

On October 20, 2009, hints that the 2010 polls will again become a venue of violence and fraud came out: when a grenade exploded near an on-going registration of voters at the City Hall of the Islamic City of Marawi, killing one instantly and injuring 20 others. In the town of Tamparan, armed men indiscriminately fired at registrants, injuring five.

Political maneuverings start during the registration of voters in Lanao del Sur because this is when all the candidates will field their flying voters to be registered. Or there are those who are sowing fear through violence so that the mobilized voters of the opponent cannot register and vote. According to Fr. Chito Suganob of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the attempt to gather flying voters is doubling now “since politicians can’t cheat because of the modernized [automated] system of voting” in 2010.  This early, the towns of Lumbayanague, Lumbatan, Maguing and Pualas are closely watched because of intense political rivalries.

To help address this situation of rampant fraud and violence, a church-based organization has started the formation of voters’ collective that will conduct voters’ education, and is collectively monitoring and documenting pre, actual and post-election irregularities.#

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