COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Maguindanao province accounts for most of the 280,077 underage and multiple registrants the poll body removed from the new voters list for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.


Lawyer Udtog Tago, provincial election supervisor for Maguindanao, told reporters that 543,034 registered in the July 9-18 general re-registration of voters in the province, but only 440,332 of them remained in the new list, following a cleansing process initiated by the Commission on Elections.


Tago revealed the statistics to reporters during a Safe and Fair Elections forum Monday at the ARMM’s regional police headquarters at Camp S.K. Pendatun in Parang, Maguindanao.


The forum was organized jointly by Tago, the director of the ARMM police, Chief Supt. Mario Avenido and Fr. David Procalla, member of the Cotabato Diocesan Clergy and regional chairman for ARMM of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.


Tago said 127,121 underage and multiple registrants that participated in the 10-day re-listing of voters in the province last July have been delisted during deliberations by the Election Registration Board hearings done from November 26 to 30.


Maguindanao originally had 567,443 voters in its old list of voters, which was revoked, along with the book of voters other ARMM provinces, by an act of Congress last May 2012, paving the way for a general re-registration process meant to ensure a clean elections in the region in 2013.

The ARMM, touted as the country’s “election cheating capital,” is also to hold its eight regional elections in May 2013, simultaneous with the nationwide local and senatorial elections.

Civil society groups in the autonomous region were elated with the poll body’s having delisted underage and multiple registrants from the area’s new book of voters.


Muslim and Christian religious leaders lauded Comelec for keeping up with its commitment to remove, via due process, non-qualified registrants that participated in the ARMM’s July 9-18 general re-registration of voters.


“But the efforts should not end there. People should still guard against cheating during the elections. It’s a long struggle yet,” a Mindanao security analyst, Oblate missionary Eliseo Mercado, Jr., said.

Mercado is director of the Cotabato City-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance, a partner outfit of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung of Germany.


Mercado, who has been helping capacitate local officials, the military and leaders of different sectors in governance and peace-building activities, said one important thrust for Moro communities to embark on is educating the public on the importance of honest electoral exercises to the Mindanao peace process.


“Exercising the right of suffrage freely is like helping the government and all stakeholders to the peace process chart a viable socio-economic growth path for Mindanao’s Moro communities,” Mercado said.


Lawyer Ray Sumalipao, Comelec’s regional director for ARMM, earlier said the delisting process, meant to remove underage and multiple registrants from the region’s new list of voters, was initiated according to rules set by the Comelec.


“The ERB found out that that there were 250,773 multiple registrants and 29,304 underage applicants that tried to have themselves listed in the 10-day general re-registration of voters in the region last July,” Sumalipao said.


ARMM’s acting governor, Mujiv Hataman, welcomed as “positive development” the cleansing of the ARMM’s new book of voters, his chief of staff, John Magno said.


“The ARMM leadership is keen on making the playing field in next year’s election practically level for all qualified voters, for all candidates and their supporters. The governor’s main concern now is to help the Comelec ensure peaceful 2013 elections in the autonomous region,” Magno said.


The July 9-18 general re-listing of voters in the autonomous region was part of the government’s effort to reform the area’s electoral system.

Previous elections in the ARMM, known as the country’s elections cheating capital, were marred with vote-rigging and vote-buying, and manipulations by warlords that employ private armies to perpetuate political power.


Sumalipao said it was for the Comelec’s Automated Fingerprinting Identification System that they discovered that 280,077 non-qualified voters have registered in last July’s listing process in the autonomous region.


Sumalipao said they will post on Jan. 13, 2013 the lists of voters for each town in the autonomous region at the municipal halls to ensure transparency and ensure accessibility to voters, candidates for local elective positions and their supporters and election volunteer watch groups.


Ustadz Esmael Ebrahim, a commissioner in the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, said the ARMM’s Muslim and Christian religious communities must take the lead in educating voters on the" spiritual relevance" of the right of suffrage.


Ebrahim said voters in the autonomous region should be able to vote freely for leaders they believe can help build a strong, politically viable Moro-led political entity in the south.


Ebrahim said cheating during elections is “haram” in Islam, just as forbidden as eating pork or drinking liquor.