Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lawyers figure in car chase for election returns in Lanao Sur

05/29/2007 | 10:37 PM

In a scene straight out of the movies, lawyers from an election watchdog group figured in a car chase with election inspectors, in the former's furious effort to get the sixth copy of election in returns (ERs) from a town in Lanao del Sur.

Online newspaper MindaNews (www.mindanews.com) reported Tuesday night that the car chase took place Monday, ending up inside the campus of the Mindanao State University (MSU).

Lawyers from the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) were running after the BEIs to get the sixth copy of ERs from Lumbayanague town in Lanao del Sur.

The incident was only one of several reported “irregularities" that hounded last weekend’s special election in Lanao del Sur, which also included minors being allowed to vote.

Counting in the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol gym was also stopped several times Monday night due to the obnoxious stench of leftover food, and the use of the gym as makeshift toilets by poll watchers.

Lente co-convenor Carlos Medina said local BEIs refused to comply with the order of poll commissioner Rene Sarmiento, who twice ordered them last May 19 and May 23 to give the sixth ER copy to the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

“It is really frustrating. The BEIs simply refused to give us ER copies. They are following their own law here. They are not even obeying orders from the national Comelec," Medina said.

He said that when they asked the BEI of Lumbayanague why she would not give them the ER copies, she said no such order came from the Lanao del Sur election supervisor.

Medina said he and the Lente lawyers finally got copies of 31 ERs from the Lumbayanague BEI member when she alighted from a van inside the MSU campus.

Lente, Namfrel and the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (C-Care), have been complaining against the refusal by BEIs to give them the ER copies.

Aside from the 31 copies from Lumabayangue, Medina said they retrieved 87 copies from the 13 towns in Lanao del Sur where special elections were held last Saturday.

A total of 494 ERs are supposed to be given to Namfrel.

Namfrel provincial chair Hajji Abdullah Dalidig said they were only able to retrieve 1,042 ERs out of 2,609 expected from the 26 towns where elections was held last May 14.

Medina said they were able to get hold of the ERs from Sultan Dumalundong town before unidentified men took away the ballot boxes Monday night.

He said the watchdog group members failed to get the ERs from the municipality of Madalum when the counting was finished Monday afternoon.

Medina said they are also baffled by the absence of a number of BEIs, many of whom had reported “sick" or were supposedly “taking a rest" in neighboring Iligan City.

On the other hand, another watchdog group said minors were able to vote and there was rampant vote-buying even inside the polling centers, right in front of policemen and election special action officers.

Salic Ibrahim, Lanao del Sur coordinator for the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (C-Care), said the presence of hundreds of soldiers, policemen and election special action officers did not deter flying voters and vote-buying during the special elections.

“They are not exactly the heroes the Comelec wanted the public to believe," Ibrahim said.

Lily Datu, a C-Care volunteer said policemen who acted as BEI members allowed poll watchers to assist disabled and illiterate voters in the casting of their votes in Butig town last May 27.

“Often, the poll watchers gave these voters P100 or P500 to vote for their candidates," Datu said.

She said the vote-buying was done right in front of the policemen and election special action officers.

In contrast, Datu said the policemen and election special action officers did not allow her and other C-Care volunteers to loiter in the polling precincts.

Norjanah Sultan, another C-Care said she saw minors voting in some precincts in Madalum town.

Comelec special action officer Roy Prule, who was assigned to supervise the elections in Butig town, said they could not do anything against the minors because the names were in the voters’ list.

Meanwhile, the counting of ballots at the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol gym had to be stopped several times Monday night reportedly because the smell of leftover food had turned so obnoxious.

But the poll watchers had refused to to leave the site amid the tight security imposed by Army soldiers, and to continue on with the vigil, decided to use the stage as their makeshift toilet.

The gym is the venue for the simultaneous counting of ballots for two municipalities. At least 200 poll watchers stay inside the gym until the counting of ballots is over.

Lawyers and soldiers described the unsanitary conditions in the gym as “a health hazard."

Prule said he nearly puked when he entered the gym to bring the ballot boxes from the town of Butig last Monday.

Prule said he had asked the Commission on Elections national headquarters in Manila to find a new venue for the counting of ballots for the town of Butig.

He said it would be preferable if the venue will be transferred to the gym at the Mindanao State University.

Col. Raynard Ronnie Javier, commanding officer of the Army 103rd Brigade, said they brought fire trucks Monday night to bring water to clean the gym. - GMANews.TV