ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Armed men suspected to be led by a former leader of the Abu Sayyaf snatched some 400 ballots from an election precinct, poured ink on some of them, and then left everything in the rain in Basilan province on Monday, May 9.
Officials said the armed group disrupted the elections in the clustered precinct, affecting barangays Bohelebung and Limbo Upas in Tipo-Tipo town.
Local elections officer Vidzfar Julie told Rappler that one of the armed men snatched the ballots from a teacher in the precinct in Bohelebung and threw them to the muddy ground and left them in the rain.
A group member in an adjacent room also poured ink on at least four of the blank ballots.
At least two people were hurt when soldiers responded and engaged the armed men.
Task Force Basilan commander Brigadier General Domingo Gobway said the ballots were spoiled by the mud and rain.
Gobway said the armed men fired back at soldiers as they fled the polling place.
Officials said the situation was under control, and the elections resumed there by afternoon.
Violence marred the elections in some areas in Mindanao such as Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Cotabato.
But in some provinces like Zamboanga Sibugay, the elections went smoothly except for some minor glitches in vote-counting machines.
Allan Kadon, Zamboanga Sibugay elections officer, said a VCM in one polling center in Ipil, the capital town of the province, broke down but it was subsequently replaced.
“Generally, the elections [in Zamboanga Sibugay] are peaceful,” said Colonel Albert Larubis, provincial police director.
Still, there were reports about how a group of armed men went from one house to another apparently to prevent voters from going to the election precincts in the province.
Comelec officials in the province and police authorities were looking into the reports.
In some polling centers, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) said health protocols such as distancing and wearing of face masks vis a vis the COVID-19 pandemic were not followed.
Bishop Julius Tonel of the Catholic Diocese of Ipil said he was worried that the province would see a spike in COVID-19 cases after the elections because people have become complacent. – Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon and Antonio Manaytay are Mindanao-based journalists and awardees of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship
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