By Aaron Recuenco
Bomb explosions and gun attacks hounded the midterm elections on Monday in Mindanao, with at least nine people reported wounded in Maguindanao and Sulu provinces alone.
In Cotabato City, two improvised explosive devices composed of 40mm mortar went off at a vacant lot in Purok Omar at 10 p.m. on Sunday.
This was followed by two more explosions in Datu Odin Sinsuat town of Maguindanao at around 1 a.m and 7 a.m. on Monday.
“All these incidents happened away from the polling places and so far, based on initial investigation they have no connection with the elections,” said Gen. Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
But Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commanding general of the 6th Infantry Division, said the explosions in Cotabato City and Maguindanao appeared to be done by supporters of erring politicians.
“The motive appears to be to scare the voters. We are investigating to identify the perpetrators,” said Sobejana.
In Sulu, at least five people were wounded when supporters of two rival candidates clashed near a voting precinct in Panglima Estino town.
Albayalde said the victims were wounded in the ensuing gun attack that occurred at around 6:30 a.m. Monday outside a voting precinct in Barangay Tiptipon.
“Two vehicles were also burned,” said Albayalde.
He identified the victims as Asiri Sadjaani, 65; Ibno Sahipa, 64; Barre Abih, 46; Omal Hasan, 57; and, Nadzra Munib, 41.
“The situation is under control and investigation is ongoing to identify the suspects,” said Albayalde.
In Datu Unsay town of Maguindanao, a 27-year old man was shot and wounded near the town public market.
Soldiers have to personally ask all the persons at the public market to protect them from the gun attack. The gunman fled.
In Shariff Aguak also in Maguindanao, a son of a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander was shot and wounded near the public market of the town at around 1:30 a.m. Monday.
He was identified as Nasrudin Upam, son of Commander Rakman who is a brigade commander of the 118th MILF Base Command.
“The victim is a right-hand man of mayoralty candidate Zaharra Ampatuan,” a military report read.
At around 10 a.m. Monday, supporters of some politicians in Datu Abdullah Sangki started throwing rocks on a voting center in Barangay Old Maganoy.
The trouble was only pacified when soldiers fired warning shots.
But as the warring parties started to leave the area, an unidentified gunman fired his .45 pistol and hit two people. They were both injured.
The two injured victims, identified as Dong and Tato Ampatuan Lintang, turned out to be sons of an MILF commander assigned at the 106th Base Command.
At around 6 a.m., soldiers intercepted a group of MILF members on board vans and motorcycles at a checkpoint in Barangay Macaguiling in Sultan Kudaray town of Maguindanao.
The leader of the group told the soldiers that they are all unarmed and was just heading to Cotabato City to observe the elections.
The MILF men, however, agreed to go back to their camp after an explanation from members of the ceasefire committees of the government and the MILF that they are not allowed to assemble during elections due to security issues.
Aside from violence, police also recorded cases of vote-buying in various parts of the country.
Based on the PNP data, a total of 302 people were arrested for vote-buying.
Most of those arrested are from Metro Manila with 155 followed by Central Luzon and CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) with 31 arrested persons each.
The rest were collared in various parts of the country.
On the other hand, soldiers recovered more than P1.1 million cash which was reportedly being used to buy votes in Zamboanga del Sur.
Lt. Col. Rufino de Leon, commander of the 97th Infantry Battalion, said the assorted peso bills amounting to P1, 056,700 were recovered in Barangay Dapiwak in Dumingag town.
“Our troops found the money believed to be left by the goons of unidentified politician at the back of an abandoned house in the said barangay,” said de Leon.
He said his men were immediately deployed in the area on Saturday after receiving reports of the presence of armed men.
The armed men were reportedly engaged in vote-buying and were also allegedly harassing some residents.
On Sunday, Army troopers also recovered some P124,000 cash from five people whom they arrested for vote-buying in Barangay Bualan, Tubid, Lanao del Norte.
Brig. Gen. Roberto Ancan, commander of the military forces in Zamboanga Peninsula and Lanai provinces, said his men also seized sample ballots and other campaign materials.
“Those arrested were already turned over to the local police,” said Ancan.
A total of 973 people were arrested for liquor ban violation nationwide, most of them are also in Metro Manila.
The liquor ban took effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday and last until 12 midnight of Monday.
Most of those arrested were engaged in drinking sessions, especially in public places.
Albayalde said that almost all the voting precincts encountered no problems during election day except for six polling precincts in Lanao del Sur.
“As of 12 noon, out of 36,831 voting centers, a total of 36,825 have already started leaving voting centers that are none operational due to defective VCMs and SD (Security Digital) cards,” said Albayalde in a press briefing past noon Monday.
Initially, there were 156 voting centers which did not start on time due to some malfunctions on VCMs and SD cards and absence of election boards.
But he said almost all of the glitches were later resolved.
For voting precincts where election boards did not show up, Albayalde said they were replaced by policemen who were earlier trained as election officers.
“A total of 1,501 PNP personnel nationwide acted as Election Boards following the absence of the teachers,” said Albayalde.
Most of the areas where the teachers did not show up are in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Northern Mindanao, Bicol Region and CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon).
“Aside from some confusion, administrative delay and queuing during the opening hours of the elections, there were no major untoward incidents that disrupted the holding of election proper,” said Albayalde.
The peaceful assessment of elections includes the four areas earlier placed under the control of the Commission on Elections.
“The conduct of elections in these areas are very peaceful based on our monitoring,” said Albayalde.
He is referring to Cotabato City, Daraga town of Albay, Moises Padilla town of Negros Occidental and Rosario town of Agusan del Sur.
Albayalde said the focus of the election security is on the 945 election hot spots identified during the pre-election security assessment.
So far, there was no major incident recorded on Monday’s election day, according to Albayalde.
He said they are banking on the lessons learned from past elections in successfully securing this year’s midterm polls.
“The PNP has been performing election duties every three years such that every individual police officer has already developed the muscle memory and sufficient familiarization,” said Albayalde.
“And each time, the experience adds to the refinement of best practices in election law enforcement,” he added.
Albayalde said most of the 170,000 policemen and soldiers were deployed to secure the Monday polls, with a task of securing the transport of election materials and the security of polling precincts.
Separate teams were also organized to run after those who would sabotage the elections, especially partisan armed group and those who are engaging in vote-buying.
“We are confident and hopeful that the entire process will proceed smoothly and orderly. Gone are the days when elections were an exercise of body count apart from the counting of votes,” said Albayalde.
“We must shun all forms of politically -motivated and election-related violence, including vote-buying and intimidation, to completely reform the national political culture,” he added.
There were 61.8 million registered voters who are expected to troop to 36,834 voting precincts across the country.
Some 18,000 elective posts are stake with 43,500 candidates.