Posted by: piom2010 | June 1, 2010

TEAM REPORT: Lanao del Sur

Lanao del Sur, located in Western Mindanao has 39 municipalities and one city — the provincial capital, Marawi City.  Majority of its population are Muslims. The agricultural province is home to the Maranaos, which means “People of the Lake” — one of the 13 ethno-linguistic tribes of Muslim Filipinos, collectively known as the Bansamoro (a term that means “Moro nation”).

Lanao del Sur is one of the five provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and is one of 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 fifth poorest province in the country.  The National Anti-Poverty Commission’s (NAPC) Summaries revealed that all the province’s 13 municipalities where a failure-of-election was declared in 2007 were part of the 40 Poorest of the Poor Communities in the country.

The People’s IOM Team was briefed by community members that many Maranaos harbor a deep-seated mistrust of the system of government imposed on them by foreign colonizers. This mistrust of government grows out of centuries of systemic injustices, which include land dispossession, impoverishment, minoritization, family rivalries, power struggles, warlordism, prejudice, and violence. The widely held negative portrayal of Muslims unjustifiably shapes labeling, and they are being mocked as natural-born cheaters and perpetually violent individuals. Any democratic election in the country happens in this context, which helps us understand vote buying, violence, and corruption, and gives us a lens through which to examine the dynamics of imposing a particular election system on a local context.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

The PIOM team assigned to Lanao del Sur, worked in partnership with the Kapamagompong 2010 Interfaith Observers’ Mission of the Healing Democracy Project, based in Marawi City. Prior to election day, the team met with the provincial superintendent of the Philippines National Police and visited the Provincial COMELEC office. On election day, the team divided into three sub-teams visiting polling places in the municipalities of Sultan Dumalongong, Masiu, Lumbayanague, Butig, Ramain, Taraka, Camalig, and Tugaya. Based on observations and interviews, the team presents the following findings:

Provincial COMELEC in disarray

Upon our arrival in Marawi City, we were surprised to learn that the National COMELEC had replaced the provincial election supervisor just one week before election day. His replacement, Manila attorney Rafael B. Olaño, could not be located the day before the election. However, we did find a curious memo posted outside the Provincial COMELEC office. Addressed to National COMELEC in Manila, dated May 7th, and signed by attorney Olaño, the memo requested that vote counting and canvassing for all of Lanao del Sur be centralized in Marawi City.

While there, we interviewed a woman from Sultan Dumalongong who had come to make an eleventh-hour appeal for the appointment of BEIs and the delivery of PCOS machines and ballots for her municipality. We also interviewed a man from Masiu, who had come to challenge the COMELEC decision to move voting for the 35 Barangays of the municipality to a centralized location. These encounters led the PIOM team to include Sultan Dumalongong and Maisu in their visits on election day.

Rampant violation of election laws

The team observed rampant violations of the electoral laws. There seems to be a culture of impunity for violators: we observed only a few isolated attempts by BEIs or COMELEC officials to stop or even admonish violators (e.g., by telling unauthorized persons to leave the polling room). We note that in 2007 “to date, no one has been penalized for election offenses.” (Kapamagompong 2010: Concept Paper)

Access to polling rooms was not strictly controlled, as it should be. As a result of the crowded conditions in most polling rooms for much of the voting period, ballot secrecy was compromised, and “wrongful voter assistance” was facilitated. We commonly observed poll watchers, family members, and others discussing the ballot with voters, in some cases filling in the ballot for the voter. We also observed voters sitting shoulder to shoulder while filling in their ballots, often discussing their voting choices. Also, people outside the polling room were shouting names and handing electoral selections to voters inside the room. Further, those on the outside could observe the ballots being filled in by voters sitting near the lattice wall.

We observed voters being given ballots which were already “shaded.” In most cases, these ballots were fed into the machine by BEIs. Many kinds of candidates’ election materials were found in all of the polling rooms, including sample ballots already filled in to form a “who to vote for” guide.

Often, due to problems with PCOS machines rejecting ballots not precisely entered by voters, it became regular practice for BEIs to feed ballots into the machines. Very few polling places used ballot security folders. In one room, the PCOS machine had been separated from the ballot box and ballots were folded and placed directly into the box by BEIs. At the same venue, ballots were placed in a single ballot secrecy folder under the control of BEIs.

Underage voting was observed, and we were informed by one group of 14/15 year olds that they were paid to vote and intended to do so.

We noted that indelible ink was in short supply in one precinct. When it ran out during voting time it was not replenished. In another precinct it simply had not been used. When the observers inquired about this, a Smartmatic technician opened the ink package and told a BEI that it should be used. While it was used briefly, when the observers checked a short time later, the ink was not being applied. It also became clear that the ink was not really indelible. Voters were observed who had voted and who successfully washed off the ink, which would have allowed them to vote again. We also observed an unauthorized person (a candidate’s supporter) applying the ink to the finger of those who had voted.

Vote buying was practiced. Voters were observed accepting money as they were entering the polling room. Many informants indicated that this traditional electoral phenomenon was widespread in the current election, beginning some days prior to and continuing up to election day. His demonstration of some of the techniques matched what we observed. In one precinct, a poll watcher was paying voters as they entered the polling room.

From conversations we had with a number of voters we had grave concerns about the integrity of the voter registration rolls. We could not confirm the existence of “flying voters,” but we were informed by a precinct captain that it was possible as the COMELEC purge of the voter registration rolls had been “minimal,” leaving double registrations of voters. Conversations with a number of voters suggested that this traditional electoral practice would certainly occur. Another observation was that although COMELEC had purged the voter registration roll in one precinct of 120 voters, ballots were sent to the precinct without regard to the purging.

The team received reports that some local election contests had been “fixed” before election day, and in one case this allegedly involved the payment Php 20 million to another candidate to back off. We could not confirm the specific case, but we have been informed that such arrangements are a traditional practice in Filipino elections.

Some technical violations occurred. For example, not all precincts had voter lists publicly displayed. Some precincts opened late, and in one cluster voting did not commence until the PCOS machines arrived at 9:30 a.m. Due to technical problems and BEI unfamiliarity with ballot feeding, the PCOS machine in one precinct was not operating until 10:50 a.m.

Automated election system

The 2010 election has been dominated by discussion, both positive and negative, regarding the introduction of the automated election system. Due to their introduction, by and large, this election has been characterized as a step forward in the democratic processes of the Philippines. Nevertheless, our team in Lanao del Sur observed a multitude of irregularities which contradict popular sentiment, particularly that of COMELEC. These findings and specific cases include the following:

No access to electricity, inadequate battery capacity, untrained BEI and Smartmatic-TIM technicians, PCOS machines not present in precincts, PCOS boxes unopened, PCOS machines arriving with broken seals, more than a dozen machines did not transmit results and Compact Flash card results could not be downloaded. In Tugaya a PCOS machine rejected 3 ballots, which were put aside, rather than being reinserted into the machine. This is in violation of the procedure; four attempts are to be provided. In Butig, we were told PCOS machines were not used because the local COMELEC official did not want immediate election results available to be announced at the close of polls, for fear that the volatile community would erupt in violence. In Ramain, PCOS machines were in use, but poll watchers were observed taking completed ballots from voters and feeding them into the machines themselves. In Taraka, where PCOS machines were not being used, some completed ballots were stuffed into the ballot box while others were collected in a file folder.

Failure of elections

We found failure of election in two of the eight municipalities we visited. In Sultan Dumalondong, no election was held because all of the BEIs were challenged by rival parties alleging conflict of interest because of family relations of the inspectors. Despite advance notice of this conflict and failure of elections in 2007 for the same reason, COMELEC made no contingency plans to address this problem. In fact, by the morning of election day, COMELEC had sent no ballots, election materials, or PCOS machines. At least 7180 registered voters were denied their right to cast a ballot on election day in Sultan Dumalongong.

In Masiu no election was held due to the absence of BEIs to conduct the election. We heard conflicting accounts from various sources: that Inspectors failed to arrive without explanation at the clustered polling location of 30 precincts at the Masiu Municipal Building; that ten BEIs arrived but were turned away by members of the AFP; that the BEIs did not show up out of fear; and that the BEI’s did not approve of the centralized voting and feared the likelihood of cheating under this arrangement. In any event, no election was held in the municipality of Masiu, and more than 15,000 registered voters there were denied their right to participate in this election.

In addition to the two failures of election that we witnessed, newspapers reported that COMELEC declared failure of elections in at least 17 municipalities out of a total of 39 municipalities in Lanao del Sur.

Violence at the polls

The situation of election violence in Lanao del Sur is complex.  Police and election officials claimed that there was no pre-election violence and confirmed that there had been no arrests.  Shooting incidents are regularly attributed to “rido,” or feuding between families, which allows officials to declare that these are not election-related. On the other hand, the context of the ARMM area involves cultural practices and traditions including kinship allegiances and local family-based authority structures that do not easily combine with the democratic electoral process in its present form.  Consequently the election process exaggerates tensions between rival family groups, which sets in motion the conditions for violence between these parties to surface and escalate around elections.  The fact that the electoral process did not match the available infrastructure in terms of factors like power supply and comfort level with use of the technology only adds to the atmosphere of tension that contributes to violence as many peacefully gathered voters were frustrated with delays and inefficiencies.

In the rural municipality of Tugaya an incident of gun violence broke out at the Central Elementary School where voting had yet to begin in 14 of 16 precincts at 10:20 am.  When voting irregularities were observed in the two precincts which had opened, a journalist with our team was threatened with violence if he did not stop documenting abuses, despite wearing his COMELEC-issued media identification allowing him to be present in the precinct.  High levels of tension and frustration became apparent when the crowd started to stampede as a result of shoving which began in response to a distribution of snacks by a candidate.  Shortly thereafter, conflict broke out between supporters of rival mayoral candidates over the presence of poll watchers within a precinct.  A fight inside the precinct ensued and a poll watcher was ejected, bleeding from the head.  The scuffle spilled out into the courtyard where an estimated 3,000 voters were still waiting to vote.  At that point two non-uniformed men entered the courtyard with handguns drawn, accompanied by a police officer carrying a long gun. In spite the efforts by some in the crowd to restrain the gunmen, shots rang out causing the crowd to flee in panic. During the ensuing panic a member of our team photographed an unidentified woman wearing no ID carrying a PCOS machine through the crowd.  The gunfire escalated into a running battle consisting of semi-automatic and automatic gunfire, plus the firing of a limited number of rocket-propelled grenades.  The firefight continued for approximately one and a half hours until interrupted by the call for noon prayers.  Observers left Tugaya at that time.  One person was killed by shrapnel from a grenade and two others wounded during the firefight.  We received subsequent reports of additional gun violence later in the afternoon resulting in two deaths, including a 14 year-old visitor to Tugaya.

The police supervisor at the Camalig school told us that she had insufficient troops to take action on violations of election law and that in any case her job was to guarantee security, therefore taking action on election violations might contradict that larger goal. The failure by the police to intervene in the gun battle at Tugaya is more difficult to explain.  The provincial police commander reported that he had made no arrests for violations of the gun ban since an initial 18 arrests in January.

Three bombing incidents occurred in three different polling precincts in Lanao del Sur.

Parish-Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) Lanao Del Sur and Marawi City Chairperson, Rev. Chito Soganub, confirmed that there were three bombings in Lanao del Sur; these were in Mindanao State University, Tugaya Central Elementary School, and Amai Pakpak Elementary School.

“In Mindanao State University in Marawi, three improvised bombs exploded 30-50 meters from the entrance gate at around 7:45 a.m. In Tugaya Central Elementary School, at around 10:30 a.m., a bomb exploded in a black Isuzu Highlander van. What’s surprising in this incident is that the key was left in the car,” Rev. Soganub said. “The third bombing happened in Amai Pakpak Elementary School at around 11:00 a.m. There were also three consecutive explosions,” he added.

However, in these three bombing incidents, no one was harmed. Rev. Soganub thinks that “these series of bombings only want to cause terror and disrupt the process of elections.

He also dismissed the possibility of MILF’s involvement in the bombings, “I think the issue is outside the MILF issue, it is an issue of simply causing terror, and besides MILF does not have anything to do with our elections,” he explained.

The idea that elections were peaceful was widely touted by the government in the days leading up to the election.  In the days immediately following the election the media has widely accepted the assertion  of the Arroyo government that these elections were indeed peaceful.  When the three deaths in Tugaya and the 57 people killed in pre-election violence in neighbouring Ampatuan in November 2009 are added to the seventeen killed in other parts of the Philippines on election day, it is clear that these elections can not be judged peaceful by any international standard.

Vote canvassing

In Marawi City’s Municipal Hall, where most election returns from different municipalities of Lanao Del Sur were centralized, canvassing was delayed. Some municipalities, including Lumbayanague and Batig, were not finished counting votes until late afternoon.

Also, many Smartmatic technicians and BEIs were not able to come to the site on time. Many were caught in the uproar outside the Municipal Hall, as PNP and AFP “prevents people from overcrowding the site.”

As of 3:30 p.m., when the observers from Healing Democracy left the site, the canvassing had not started yet.

PEOPLE’S INITIATIVES

In Lanao del Sur, the PIOM delegates worked in partnership with the Kapamagompong 2010 Interfaith Observers’ Mission of the Healing Democracy Project. This was an election observers’ mission that drew together participants from interfaith and secular communities in the Philippines and internationally, to assess the conduct of the May 10, 2010 national elections vis-a-vis the international standards that apply to conduct of genuine democratic elections. “Kapamagompong” is the Maranao term for “gathering.”

The objective of this mission was to bring to the attention of the interfaith and secular communities, both locally and internationally, the extent of election-related fraud and violence in Lanao del Sur. Also, to muster international pressure on the candidates against committing fraud and violence and support the people’s efforts to protect their votes.

In preparation for the election, Kapamagompong 2010 Interfaith Observers’ Mission of the Healing Democracy Project conducted voters’ education and trained election observers who were dispatched on election day to 30 of 39 municipalities in Lanao del Sur. A questionnaire was drafted to assist them in their evaluation and observation of the election. This one-year project was started in December 2009, specifically for the 2010 national elections.

In addition, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) in Lanao Del Sur also was monitoring the election, giving particular attention to failures of elections in different municipalities of the province. They also monitored the series of bombings in Marawi City. PPCRV was established in 1991 to work for clean and honest elections. Every election period, they conduct monitoring during election day and canvassing day.

CONCLUSION

The team was deeply disappointed in the conduct of the election in the aforementioned towns of Lanao del Sur, where violations of election laws and procedures were so widespread that a greater part of the province could be declared a “democratic disaster area.”  In Lanao del Sur, the inefficiency, incompetence and corruption of the electoral process by COMELEC and Smartmatic exacerbated by rivalries of clans in the locality and economic inequality, resulted in a miscarriage of democracy.

We hope that by bringing these findings to light, lessons can be learned to ensure that future elections will be free and fair, and that the Philippines will one day live up to its potential as a vibrant democracy.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Take action to eliminate violence by strict enforcement of the gun ban and eliminate delays on election day which encourage tensions to rise
  2. Study social, economic, political and cultural structures as they relate to processes of democratic elections among the peoples of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao
  3. Take action to strictly enforce the electoral laws and end the culture of impunity which COMELEC has permitted to continue for many years

Make COMELEC accountable to address the discrepancies shown by the application of the Automatic Election System and the existing infrastructure and provide alternatives where necessary.

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