By RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
TUGAYA, Lanao del Sur — A two-hour gunfight erupted as polling places opened in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur at about nine-thirty in the morning of election day, killing one young woman and wounding two others.
Aslea Panda died four hours later in a hospital in Marawi City while her brother Sobair Panda was also wounded. Another unidentified victim was treated for gunshot wounds.
Relatives of Tugaya Mayor Alimatar Guro Alim and rival Mangawan Balindong Pacalna exchanged M60 machine gun fire and rifle-propelled grenades, as well as assault rifle and semi-automatic pistol fire.
Thousands of voters cowered behind walls, dropped to the ground or scampered to safety outside the school premises. Many women fainted while several elder women had to be carried to safer places. A pregnant woman was helped out of the polling precinct during the fighting.
Voting was abruptly stopped
Violence erupted inside one of the polling centers over an unknown dispute. Despite the efforts of the crowd to pacify the combatants handguns and assault rifles were soon fired into the air.
Military helicopters circled the town center during the fighting. Three police armored personnel carriers rushed to Tugaya more than two hours after the violence started.
Tugaya residents complained that violence always erupts during elections. They said that the violence was one way by which candidates stop the polls, hoping for special elections at a later date. During special elections, the candidate with a bigger slush fund for vote-buying usually wins, they said.
People’s International Observers’ Mission delegates, including three foreign observers from Canada, United States of America and Australia were caught in the middle of the gunfire as well. During a brief lull in the firing, Canadians Randall Garrison and Carol Crabtree and American Joyce Ann Mercer were escorted to a house belonging to Healing Democracy Project (HDP) volunteer Moks Jamalodin. Jamalodin is a cousin of the Pandas.
Local delagates and foreign observers of People’s International Observers’ Mission were caught in the middle of the gunfire in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur. (Photo by Kodao Productions / kodao.org / bulatlat.com)
Fr. Joey Evangelista, and Kodao Productions Raymund Villanueva and Desaperacidos’ Eugene Soco, PIOM delegates from Manila, separately made their way to the said house aided by HDP volunteers and their relatives.
The firing stopped when the nearby Mosque started noontime prayers.
The PIOM team took this opportunity to slip away and drive back to Marawi City.
Earlier in the day, in a courtesy call to Tugaya acting election officer Randawal Rasuman assured PIOM delegates that 90 percent of all PCOS machines were already delivered to the different polling precincts.
“Well, everything is smooth. Smooth…We open at eight o’clock.” Rasuman told the PIOM team.
But the delegates observed that several machines were still being delivered to Tugaya Central Elementary School as late as nine o’clock in the morning while one BEI chairperson complained of not being trained, as she was a last-minute replacement. One polling center also lacked electricity.
In the lone polling precinct that was in operation before violence erupted, PIOM delegates also documented many poll violations. Vote buying and coaching were rampant while several candidates and their supporters openly campaigned with pieces of paper printed with the numbers, names and pictures of candidates. Some supporters were writing down the candidates’ ballot numbers on the palms of voters. The poll watchers did not wear identification cards and openly coached and bought votes inside the polling center.
The board of election inspectors (BEI) in the said precinct did not bother to drive away the candidates’ supporters who completely took over the voting process while the voters sat beside them clutching money from candidates.
The BEI also did not bother to re-insert the rejected ballots into the PCOS machines. It also allowed a woman displaying a bag printed with a name of a candidate to take over the placement of indelible ink on the fingers of voters.
In Masiu, Lanao del Sur, the PIOM team received reports that the provincial Commission on Elections already declared a failure of elections. (Bulatlat.com)