A video showing members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) securing vote counting machines, ballot boxes, and other election paraphernalia in Lumbatan, Lanao del Sur went viral on social media recently.
Initially, netizens had a negative perception of the video as military personnel were seen grabbing the VCMs, ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia but Col. Ramon Zagala, AFP spokesperson, explained what actually happened.
Zagala, in phone interview with the Manila Bulletin Thursday, May 12, explained that Lumbatan election officer (EO) Marthyr Harry Sumalipao sought the help of the military after around 150 watchers and supporters of opposition candidate Lominog Lao allegedly took control of the municipal hall last May 10 where the election paraphernalia were stored. These were supposed to be brought to Marawi City. Lao, of the PDP-Laban, is vying for the mayoralty post in Lumbatan against 17 other candidates, including the incumbent mayor Allan Lao, of Lakas CMD.
The military responded by deploying a unit from the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Battalion but they were allegedly blocked by the watchers and supporters of Lao.
In the video, the soldiers were seen asking the watchers and supporters to hand them the election paraphernalia so these can be transported to Marawi City until shots were fired outside the municipal hall.
“Since we are deputized by the Comelec, we were ordered to retrieve the ballots. Ang kaso may mga nagpaputok sa labas ng (But there were shots fired outside the) municipal hall so our soldiers have to defend,” Zagala said.
“Ang mga watchers at supporters hindi naman dapat sila ang humahawak ng balota. So ang election officer at board of election inspectors ang nagpatawag ng Army dahil nga hindi na nila makuha ‘yung mga gamit (Watchers and supporters are not supposed to handle the ballot boxes. So the election officer and board of election inspectors called the Army because they can’t retrieve the paraphernalia),” he added.
Zagala said the soldiers had to break the windows of the municipal building so they can enter because the supporters and watchers allegedly blocked the entrance of the building.
The standoff lasted from 4 p.m. of May 10 to 11:45 p.m.
When the soldiers retrieved the election paraphernalia, the supporters and watchers allegedly formed a barricade using their cars to block the pathway of the troops.
Lt. Col. Romulus Rabara, commander of the 5IB, ordered the soldiers to ram the vehicles and as soon as the civilians saw the truck, they got out of the soldiers’ way.
Zagala said the troops safely transported the VCMs and ballot boxes in Marawi City around 3:30 a.m. of May 11.
“Our Army only followed the orders of the Comelec because the watchers were already taking over. Hindi naman pwede iyon dahil Comelec and masusunod, hindi watchers (It’s not allowed because Comelec is the sole authority, not the watchers),” Zalaga said.
The camp of Lao has yet to issue a statement on the incident.