Threats, vote-buying in Bangsamoro region on eve of midterm polls

MANILA, Philippines – Monday, May 13, will be the first midterm polls for the newly created Bangsamoro region, and its seat of power, Cotabato City, is caught in a heated rivalry between two mayoral bets.

Cotabato City mayoral candidate Bai Sandra Sema’s posters were torn down in some barangays, with witnesses pointing to men in bonnets as those responsible for the incident, according to reports that reached International Alert Philippines, a think tank focused on Mindanao.

The reports said they were supposedly hired by Sema’s opponent, the city’s fierce incumbent mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi.

According to International Alert's election bulletin on Sunday, May 12, the tension between Sema and Guiani-Sayadi had prompted Sema to oppose the lifting of the Commission on Elections' control over Cotabato City. The poll body previously placed the city under its control in January 2019.

Guiani-Sayadi also supposedly rejected a proposed truce with Sema, the report said. 

The campaign period in Central Mindanao has been characterized by intense political rivalries, intimidation, and violence, according to International Alert.

Amounts for vote-buying

Vote-buying was also prevalent, with offers ranging from P300 to P3,000, the group added.

International Alert said its critical events monitoring system recorded a total of 43 real-time reports on tension and violence during the campaign for local candidates.

They took place from March 28 to May 10 and covered areas in Cotabato City and Lanao del Sur.

“They [reports] depicted a campaign period characterized by intense political rivalries that saw candidates and their supporters engage in mudslinging, vote-buying, intimidation and threats, harassment, physical fights, and violence with the use of firearms,” the group said.

This is among the highest number of election-related incidents recorded by the group with 40 incidents recorded in the 2013 elections; 29 in 2016; and 47 in 2018, in the run-up to the Bangsamoro plebiscite.

Despite this, the group said “violence has always marred the run-up, the actual conduct of elections, and the post-election situation in Mindanao, particularly in the Muslim Mindanao region.”

Intimidation and vote-buying: International Alert said candidates and their supporters turned to social media and radio to campaign hard against their rivals, with attacks becoming “particularly harsh” and sometimes personal.

The use of campaign materials also saw supporters fight over where these could be posted. In Malabang, Lanao del Sur, a barangay chairman and his uncle engaged in brawl after the chairman refused to post his uncle’s campaign poster.

“Threats, intimidation, and harassment” were carried out by candidates and supporters against rivals.

The group cited an incident in Bayang town, where a district representative wanted his cousin to support his candidate for mayor. “His supporters allegedly sprayed with bullets a vehicle, containing his cousin’s allies, to force the cousin to switch sides,” International Alert said.

Progress in Bangsamoro region: What’s at stake for Bangsamoro residents in the May 2019 polls?

International Alert said the elections will give voters another chance to elect officials who will work with the newly formed Bangsamoro government.

The 2019 midterm elections will be the first in the Bangsamoro region following the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law earlier this year. The new Muslim region is assured more power, resources, and bigger territory than its predecessor, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Much is riding on the outcome of the election in the Bangsamoro tomorrow…. following the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and as Marawi attempts to rise from the devastation wreaked by the 2017 war, it will need government officials who will work towards security, stability, and growth," the group said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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