Text and Video by ARTHA KIRA PAREDES
Photos by AMIEL MARK CAGAYAN
COTABATO CITY— The Army on Thursday described the conduct of recently concluded 10-day voters' registration in Maguindanao as "smooth" and called it "an indicator of an improved security condition in Mindanao."
Maguindanao has been in a state of emergency since late 2009 after the Nov. 23 Ampatuan massacre left 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers, dead in what is considered as the country's worst case of election-related violence.
At a stakeholders' forum that assessed the July 9-18 voters' registration conducted throughout the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Maj. Gen. Rey Ardo, Sixth Infantry Division commander, said Maguindanao was divided into four areas secured by joint security coordinating task groups of the 6th ID personnel and the Philippine National Police. Task forces were created for clustered areas in the south, east, north and central.
Ardo co-chairs Task Force Rehistro which organized the forum together with the Citizens' Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (C-CARE).
Maj. Allen Estrera, who presented the Army report, said the creation of security operations in municipalities and "extensive deployment" of Armed Forces personnel played a role in "deterring saboteurs and lawless armed groups from disrupting the registration."
The AFP fielded a total of 2,826 of its personnel while the Philippine National Police had an 800-strong contingent in Maguindanao augmented by 205 law enforcers from the regional headquarters and the provincial police offices of Regions 9, 10 and 12.
Estrera said putting Elections Commissioner Christian Lim in charge contributed to the quicker decision making and resolution of registration issues. Early discussions and workshops also "enhanced the synchronization efforts," he said.
Election officers from other regions "projected impartiality and sincerity on the part of the Comelec," he also said.
The 6th ID said Maguindanao is different from other provinces because of the presence of armed groups and "candidates tend to put more importance on the registration period as part of political aspirations."
In their report, police classified the July 8 mauling of Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) member Sahara Kamarudin by a group of women who wanted to get PPCRV IDs and shirts in Barira, Maguindanao as registion-related.
Maguindanao is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's "seat of power" in Mindanao, the Army said. As of 2010 elections, police data showed that Maguindanao had three private armed groups (PAGs) with 1,596 members—more than 10 times the number of members of the 11 private armies in Masbate—the biggest number of PAGs listed at the time.
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews, The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")