Officials confident polls in Maguindanao will be peaceful

John Unson - The Philippine Star


COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Security officials are convinced the conduct of the May 2013 midterm polls in Maguindanao in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will be peaceful and orderly due to the compliance of local communities with the gun ban.

Unlike the previous election periods, less than 10 firearms have been seized from violators so far in all of Maguindanao’s 36 towns, some of them long-time “election hotspots,” since the Commission on Elections imposed last Jan. 13 a nationwide ban on unauthorized carrying of guns to ensure peaceful elections in May.

Registered voters in Maguindanao are also to participate in the ARMM’s eight regional elections, originally scheduled last Aug. 8, 2011, but effectively postponed and jibed with the May 2013 local and midterm elections by Republic Act 10153.

Maguindanao’s police director, Senior Supt. Rudelio Jocson, attributes the active compliance by local sectors with the gun ban to the continuing intercessions by local government units, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the provincial peace and order council, Cotabato’s auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Jose Colin Bagaforo, and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman.

“These are the people that have been reaching out to the local Muslim and Christian communities, convincing them to abide with the gun ban,” Jocson told The Star via mobile phone.

For the first time ever, six people have voluntarily yielded guns with expired licenses to the Maguindanao police following the start of the gun ban, Jocson said.

“If this will continue, we will be witnessing a peaceful and honest election in Maguindanao in May,” Jocson said.

Fr. Dave Procalla, regional chairman of the PPCRV for ARMM, said the regional police and the Army’s 6th Infantry Division have jointly brokered in recent weeks “peace covenants” among politicians vying for local, regional and provincial positions, some of them locked in rido, or bloody clan wars.

The latest of the election peace treaties was crafted last week in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao by rival politicians, among them members of the Ampatuan clan and their relatives supporting the re-election bid of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

Mangudadatu, in an interview with Catholic station dxMS here Tuesday, assured that he and his followers in the Liberal Party will never embark on anything that can disrupt the May elections in the province.

“I can guarantee no trouble of any sort will come from our ranks,” said Mangudadatu, provincial chairman of Liberal Party for Maguindanao.

Mangudadatu earlier said the provincial peace and order council, which he chairs, is also keen on reconciling more feuding clans in the province before the May elections.

Moro and non-Moro ethnic Teduray politicians from Maguindanao’s adjoining North Upi and South Upi towns also signed early this week an election peace covenant in the presence of Muslim preachers, leaders of the Christian religious communities, and Maguindanao’s election supervisor, lawyer Udtog Tago.

The spokesman of 6th ID, Col. Dickson Hermoso, said their commander, Major Gen Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo, was fascinated with the cooperation of supposedly rival political camps in forging peace covenants binding them all to reject the use of violence and deceit to advance their political interests.

“This is something we can hardly witness before,” said Hermoso, a former senior staff of the government’s ceasefire committee dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Procalla said he is also grateful to the support of the Maguindanao provincial police, the joint government and MILF ceasefire committees and various civil society organizations in helping enforce the gun ban.

Possession of guns is a strong tradition among ARMM residents, both as status symbol and as protection against adversaries.

The mayor of Maguindanao’s hinterland North Upi town, Ramon Piang, who is seeking re-election unopposed as administration candidate, said the Maguindanao police and its component municipal units have actively been reaching out to local MILF commanders, with the guidance of the joint ceasefire committee, as they enforce the gun ban.

“As far as I know, there has never been a single report yet of MILF forces violating the gun ban,” said Piang, a member of the government’s peace panel negotiating with the rebel group.

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