Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri’s privilege speech – Sept. 20, 2010

I was approached a number of times by some of our constituents and political leaders from the Provinces of Lanao Del Sur, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi to inform me that after more than three (3) months since the May 10, 2010 elections, no one has been proclaimed duly elected Congressman of the First District of Lanao Del Sur, and certain Municipalities therein do not have their duly elected local officials, including areas in the Province of Basilan. Upon inquiry I learned that special elections have yet to be held particularly in eight (8) municipalities in Lanao Del Sur; three (3) in the First District, namely: Kapai, Marantao and Buadiposo Buntong; and five (5) in the Second District, namely: Calanogas, Ganassi, Lumbatan, Pagayawan and Tugaya, that seats for Board Members for the Province of Basilan have yet to be elected and positions for Vice Mayor and councilors of a municipality in the province of Tawi Tawi have both yet to be elected and proclaimed.

I gathered that the Commission on Elections (Comelec), in its resolution dated July 13, 2010, declared failure of elections in a few barangays in these municipalities, with the exception of Tugaya where the Comelec declared failure of elections in the entire municipality. However, special elections have not been held to date.

The case of the First District is more curious, and I say that for the following reasons:

The failure of elections in the Municipalities of Kapai, Marantao and Buadiposo Buntong, all in the First District of Lanao Del Sur, involve clustered precincts in a total of twelve (12) barangays only: ten (10) in Kapai, one (1) in Marantao and one (1) in Buadiposo Buntong. Albeit seemingly small in terms of the number of barangays involved, the failure of elections in these twelve (12) barangays deprived the entire First District of representation in Congress; resulted in the kidnapping of a son of Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph; challenged the government which is perceived to have succumbed to pressure from lawless elements; and finally, raised questions on the Comelec’s ability and preparedness to conduct the barangay and sangguniang kabataan elections this coming November 13, 2010.

It may be well to recall the events that transpired in the last three months:

On May 10, 2010, elections were held in the Province of Lanao Del Sur and the rest of the country. While generally peaceful, the exercise resulted in total failure of elections in seven (7) municipalities; and partial failure of elections in eight (8) municipalities in Lanao Del Sur and some municipalities in Basilan.

The Comelec En Banc through Resolution 8946 rescheduled a special election originally set for May 29, 2010 to June 3, 2010, but only for the seven (7) municipalities where there was total failure of elections. For some unknown reasons, the Comelec en banc did not include in the June 3 special elections the eight (8) other municipalities where there was only partial failure of elections.

On June 3, 2010, the special election was held as scheduled. After the canvass of all the votes cast for the First District of Lanao Del Sur, congressional candidate Hussein Pangandaman received a total of 87,673 votes, as against his closest rival Salic Dumarpa’s 84,563 votes; or a difference of 3,110 votes in favor of Hussein Pangandaman. However, Hussein Pangandaman was not proclaimed by the Provincial Board of Canvassers because the registered voters in the remaining twelve (12) barangays of the First District totaled 4,654 voters; and that is notwithstanding the fact that it may be improbable for candidate Salic Dumarpa to overtake the lead of Hussein Pangandaman.

It is for this reason that Hussein Pangandaman pushed for the immediate holding of special elections in the twelve (12) remaining barangays, and successively filed with the Comelec en banc several Motions to Set Special Elections on June 12, July 1, and July 19, 2010, and sent letters reiterating such request on June 23, 2010. On July 5, 2010, the duly elected officials of the province of Lanao Del Sur aired a similar request through an open letter received by the Comelec en banc on the same date. To date, the Comelec has yet to act on the aforesaid requests.

I am not here to lawyer for any candidate Mr. President, I am here to point out the rising tension that has been prevailing in these areas due to the failure to conduct special elections in these areas. Politically motivated crimes have been increasing.

On June 20, 2010, the son of Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph was kidnapped by armed men. The kidnappers were not after payment of ransom, but strangely demanded the annulment of the results of the elections in certain municipalities in Lanao Del Sur. It is thus not surprising that newspaper, radio and TV reports, both local and national, attributed the kidnapping to losing politicians in Lanao Del Sur. Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph was more scathing in his private remarks that certain politicians were behind the kidnapping of his son.

As a result of the kidnapping, the Comelec reportedly did not set the special elections in Lanao Del Sur as the Commissioners were concerned that the kidnapped victim may be harmed, or worse killed, if the special elections were held. While the Comelec did not annul the results of the elections in certain municipalities in Lanao Del Sur as demanded by the kidnappers, it seems that the kidnappers apparently succeeded in their second objective, which is to delay the conduct of the special elections.

Last September 10, a former mayor and mayoral candidate in the town of Tugaya by the name of Alimatar Guro Alim was killed and four of his companions wounded while on their way to pray and celebrate Eid ul-Fitr or the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. The perpetrators have become so ruthless that they did not even respect and recognize the significance of the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan as a holy day for Muslims.

These acts of violence only show that the delay of the special elections will continue to heighten the tension in the area and result to more politically motivated violence in the region and as a Mindanaoan, I am quite concerned by the Comelec’s action on the matter.

Then in a resolution dated August 3, 2010, the Comelec en banc finally set the special elections in Lanao Del Sur, as well as in Bulacan and in Basilan, for October 2, 2010, but only after Comelec acquires PCOS machines from Smartmatic –TIM Corp. and printed ballots to the tune of Php131,949,575.39. This special elections would reportedly take eight (8) weeks of preparation, and is subject to availability of funds. After consulting with Commissioner Larrazabal, he had assured this representation that the special elections would push through on October 2, 2010.

However, I have been informed that as of today, the Comelec has not sent the formal Notice to Proceed to Smartmatic, and as such the eight-week preparation period has not commenced to run. Obviously, because of that information the special elections will not be held on October 2, 2010 as earlier announced by the Comelec, but instead on November 13, 2010 and no one knows when Comelec will provide Smartmatic the much-awaited Notice to Proceed. In the meantime, the people of the First District of Lanao Del Sur continue to be deprived of representation in Congress, as the district now holds the distinction of the only legislative district in the country where the winning congressional candidate has not been proclaimed, and thus robbing the people of the First District of Lanao del Sur a voice in Congress, and the election of new local government officials for their towns and in several towns in Basilan and Tawi-Tawi where similar situation prevails.

For the information of this August Chamber, the Comelec came out with a press release yesterday that the special elections in these areas will be held, finally, on November 13 of this year.

My question to the Comelec is this: Why not have the special elections coincide with the Barangay and SK elections? Will it not save money for the Comelec and the government as well, since the people in these areas will already go out and vote, and the areas will be already secured by the Comelec and the PNP. Why have it 2 or 3 weeks after the Barangay elections as any delay, I fear, will continue to spill blood in these areas, Mr. President.

I would like the proper Senate Committee to ask the Comelec to give us a valid explanation on why it has taken this long, as well as why it would not be synchronized with the October 25 Barangay and SK elections, lest more people will be kidnapped or killed, God forbid, Mr. President.

Thank you and good day.

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