Tomorrow, May 9, all eyes are on Cotabato City as the indicator of the Bangsamoro vote. The past week has been marred with election-related controversies, with hundreds of teachers protesting over the conduct of preparations for the polls.
By MENCHANI TILENDO
COTABATO CITY — More than 500 special police forces are set to serve as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in Cotabato City Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) tomorrow, May 9, following a series of election-related violence this past week.
According to PNP-BARMM Joint Special Operations Task Group Head Brig. Gen. Pablo Labra, this decision was agreed upon today by the local opposing camps United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP, party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and incumbent City Mayor Cynthia-Guiani Sayadi.
Last May 5, more than 200 public school teachers protested and staged a walkout during the scheduled testing and sealing of VCMs in the city. They decried their removal as electoral board members as they were replaced by Madaris School Islamic teachers who have not undergone training to operate the vote counting machines (VCMs).
“The teachers were surprised upon learning that they were removed and others were designated to handle the vote counting machines (VCMs),” Mayor Sayadi, who is vying for re-election, said in an interview with Radyo Pilipinas.
Sayadi added that this was followed by the supposed recommendation made by the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education (MBHTE) in BARMM.
BARMM Education Minister and MILF Peace Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal belied claims that the agency is involved in a plot to rig the May 9 election results. He explained in a radio interview that the controversy over the supposed replacement of teachers as poll workers was a case of mix-up and not out of any malicious motives.
Under the memorandum of agreement between the Commission on Elections (Comelec0 and MBHTE, the latter is allowed to recommend teachers whom the poll body will draft for election duty. But in the recent case, according to Iqbal, “the Cotabato City Schools Division also submitted its list of teachers to serve as electoral boards to the Comelec.”
Iqbal said that the complications over the names of electoral board members were due to the reshuffling of election officers in Cotabato City. As of Friday, the new election officer of Cotabato City is lawyer Maadz Ali, replacing Eusoph Kari, designated as Cotabato City acting election officer on Wednesday.
Iqbal added that the city schools division should have submitted their list to the MBHTE first and the agency will be the one to recommend to Comelec.
The issue was escalated to the Comelec national office as Commissioner Marlon Casquejo reiterated that only those poll workers trained and certified by the Department of Science and Technology can serve in the electoral board.
From VCM testing and sealing to tensions
On May 7, hundreds of public school teachers waited in front of the Comelec office at the Bangsamoro Government Center for their formal appointments as poll servers. On this same day was the rescheduled final testing and sealing of the VCMs, which was also delayed due to the non-availability of election board members.
Tensions gripped the place when a group identified with the UBJP allegedly blocked the release of the VCMs from the local Comelec office to the city polling centers. A vehicle was damaged and one military personnel was injured during the commotion.
This was after the BARMM Interior and Local Government received reports of alleged attempts to sneak out ballots ahead of Monday’s elections in the towns of Sultan Kudarat and Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao.
In a press statement, the Sultan Kudarat police denied the allegations, saying no ballot-snatching took place.
BARMM Interior and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said that these prompted the UBJP members to closely monitor the movement of the VCMs and other election paraphernalia.
Due to security reasons, the local Comelec office has again rescheduled the final testing and sealing of the VCMs in all assigned polling centers today, supervised by hundreds of police personnel.