HEALING DEMOCRACY: Unleashing Interfaith Initiatives towards the Promotion of Democratic Electoral Process in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao, Philippines

Mar. 27, 2010

by Ms. Adelaida D. Ditucalan
Spokesperson, HEALING DEMOCRACY Project
Philtown Hotel, Macahambus-Velez Sts., Cagayan de Oro City
04 March 2010

Assalamu Alaikum! Peace be with you!

In behalf of HEALING DEMOCRACY, and of the Maranao grassroots longing for honest, orderly and peaceful elections in the Lanao del Sur, I welcome you all to the launching of this project.

As a Maranao, I am particularly glad that interfaith partners and communities are here, more than ready to leap over the skepticism that the larger society imposes unto their Bangsamoro brethren. We are equally happy with the presence of the media. I may also take this opportunity to welcome our friends from the European Commission that helped us realize this grassroots and interfaith initiative, Ms. Camilla Hagstrom, Deputy Head of the Operations Section and Ms. Romina Sta. Clara, Program Head of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) Philippines.

Please allow me to share with you the collective stories of the people of Lanao del Sur—a province punctuated by perennial poll irregularities—on the fragmented strands of the democratic electoral process in the area. May our actual conditions and aspiration as people take home spaces in your hearts, and will somehow break the harmful labeling against your Moro brothers and sisters.

Elections in the Moroland: the Lanao del Sur experience

What is supposed to be a democratic exercise, elections in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao, Philippines has been marred with irregularities, fraud and violence so much so that the exercise exhibits the most objectionable display of attack versus democracy in the country as what the election observers missions in the past have noted.

Voters having more than one finger which have been marked with ink that are easily washed-off with soap; Voters freely admitting to having voted several times and paid a minimum of P50 for every vote for municipal and city councilors to as much as P2,000 per vote for mayoralty candidates; Poll watchers sitting beside voters and dictating the names to be written in the ballots; Peso bills stapled on sample ballots and campaign leaflets being passed on to the voters through window grills; Ball pens in voting booths with stickers bearing candidate’s names written on them; Minors as young as 15 years old allowed to vote; Voters list not posted outside precincts, and no Secrecy Folders and no list of candidates for national and local positions; Members of the Philippine National Police-Regional Special Action Force dictating to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) when the precincts would be closed, while carrying assault and sniper rifles inside the schools.

“Blatant cheating and chaos.” This was how the People’s International Observers Mission (PIOM), an election observer, described the May 14, 2007 polls in Lanao del Sur after visiting selected areas in the Province on the election day and documented the cases mentioned above. Thirteen municipalities of the Province declared a failure of election, and postponed the voting 12 days after when poll officers refused to serve in the May 14 polls because of harassment from armed men believed to be aligned with warring political candidates. Armed goons reportedly roamed several towns, firing their guns, scaring people and election officials.

Moreover, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism also noted the unusually high increase in the number of registered voters. From 275,572 in 2004, the number of registered voters in the province rose to 396,722, an increase of 43.9 percent in three years. Of the 13 municipalities holding special elections in May 2007, two towns had an increase of over 100 percent. No less than the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chair, Benjamin Abalos, admitted that there were more than 100,000 multiple registrants in Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), to which Lanao del Sur is a part of, that were not excluded from the voter’s list in the region’s elections on August 2005.

Another observers’ mission, Kontra-Daya (Anti-Fraud), that visited in May 2007 polls the municipalities holding special elections reiterated the PIOM’s remarks. In Masiu town, Kontra-Daya noted voters who were not marked with indelible ink on their fingers, and when asked, casually answered, “so that we can vote again.” They also documented cases where BEIs deliberately did not read votes cast for some senatorial candidates, and empty official tally sheets used as a table cloth.

Fearsome forecast: Lanao Sur polls will be fraudulent, bloody as usual

On October 20, 2009, hints that the 2010 polls will again become an exhibition of violence and fraud came out: a grenade exploded near an on-going registration of voters at the City Hall of the Islamic City of Marawi, killing one instantly and injuring 20 others. In the town of Tamparan, armed men indiscriminately fired at registrants, injuring five.

Political maneuverings start during the registration of voters in Lanao del Sur because this is when the candidates will field their flying voters to be registered. However, the attempt to gather and register flying voters became dramatically pronounced when politicians realized that the modernized automated system of election put an end to cheating and fraudulent actions at the counting and canvassing stages.

Additionally, since October last year, the towns of Lumbayanague, Lumbatan, Maguing and Pualas are closely watched because of intense political rivalries.

In a closer look: cheating and violence, democracy and the rule of law in Lanao Sur

Lanao del Sur never fails to get an extraordinary nationwide interest come every election time. The regular cases of poll-related fraud and violence characterize the elections in the Province.

In a backdrop of a Province holding records of high poverty incidence, a ballot is a material object treated as property which can be sold to the highest bidders. A different scenario however exists in the case of political warlordism where control of terror is used to guarantee political obedience. Family connections are a factor to the perpetuation of warlordism where family members operate as foot soldiers. The history of rido (clan vendetta) among the candidates stimulates electoral violence. This is the primary cause of the failure of elections in the aforementioned 13 municipalities in 2007.

In any case presented above, the right to suffrage is being trampled upon. In a conceptual framework, a ballot is more than a piece of paper; it is a paper where the highest demonstration of people’s primacy in governance is cast. Needless to say, the ballot has gone away to serve its lawful function of building a fair and humane social order in this part of Mindanao. Freedom to choose are elusive to men with empty stomachs whose capacities are too poor to exercise freewill, and in the other case, the people’s will is taken away by the barrel of a gun. Democracy has gone off track in Lanao del Sur.

But of all the causes of electoral aberration that summarily disenfranchised the Maranaos from exercising their right of suffrage, the ineptitude and corruption in the Commission on Election is the greatest. After many adjustments, the Comelec stopped at the ratio of one polling center per 200-250 voters. This was in the old manual procedure that people are familiar with. Today, with the new automated electoral system that is certified foreign to the average voter, there is a question of how many votes will again be disenfranchised. If there were cases of election with the use of the old procedure, how much more if we make use of the new one where five precincts will be clustered into one? There will be greater chances for these wrongdoings.

It is to be noted that the Comelec, the constitutional body that is directly responsible in the conduct, supervision and control of elections, are not doing anything to address these problems. They are veteran card dealers in the game. Many have learned how big money and prestige are if they play their cards well. Only few and rare can resist the inducements. Those who play fair and just become social outcast or target of either bribery or intimidation. Thus, they put their own powers at work to facilitate the victory of their favorites. Just among themselves, they decide the outcome of elections, the future of governance and the fate of popular will.

Furthering about Lanao del Sur and the Maranaos

The Province has thirty-nine municipalities and a city, a home to more than 620,000 Maranaos, with 396,722 registered voters in 2007. Maranao is one of the Islamized thirteen ethno-linguistic tribes of the Bangsamoro (a term that means ‘Moro nation’).

The province, as a part of the perennial poorest Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is one the poorest performers in terms of human development according to Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) in 2005. PHDR in 2008/2009 also pointed out that Lanao del Sur is at the bottom 10 of the provinces in the Philippines in terms of real per capita income, human development index and gender-related index. According to the same report, it is the 5th poorest province in the country. The National Anti-Poverty Commission’s (NAPC) Summaries revealed that all the Province’ 13 municipalities where a failure-of-election was declared in 2007 were part of the 40 Poorest of the Poor Communities in the country.

Outside of the Province, Muslims are confronted by prejudice and isolation, thereby narrowing our choices. We are being discriminated in employment, school admission and house leasing among others. The widely held negative portrayal of Muslims unjustifiably shapes labeling, and we are being mocked as natural-born cheaters and perpetually-violent individuals. We are paraded in the media as culprit of almost all of the bombing sprees, as terrorists, and perpetrators of various other acts criminal. We have become victims of this dictum: “you are considered innocents until proven Muslims.”

The Maranaos, together with other tribes of the Bangsamoro, lived through centuries of violent and painful history in defending their lands and we have been a victim of systematic policy of driving us out of Mindanao in which we are now a minority. We have been made to believe that the Christian settlers are our enemies, while obscuring the fact that inside the ARMM and afar, landlords—both Moro and non-Moro—are having a heyday robbing us of our lands. The divide-and-rule dirty magic employed by the powers-that-be is actively at work, and affects the division between the Bangsamoro, Lumads and Christian settlers of this promised land.

Signs of hope from the grassroots

Needless to say, the people of Lanao del Sur’s confidence in elected government and its political institutions have eroded, where the grassroots almost resign in the air of helplessness to achieve substantial reforms for more equity and transparency.

But they will confront the challenge of healing the ailing democratic electoral process in our land. Far from resigning, the Maranao grassroots and their people’s organizations will not stop bringing back their lost traditional democratic practice, and will not stop until that day where democracy have been promoted to a new and higher level. And we are fully aware that this can only be offered by an environment where human rights in all facets are realized.

Good thing is, organizations of Maranao origin such as the Suara Bangsamoro, Liga ng Kabataang Moro and all other formations and individuals are very willing to contribute and give their time, talent and, yes, even their lives, for the healing and eventual realization of genuine democracy in the sphere.

Grassroots initiatives, interfaith response

In this part of Muslim Mindanao where erosion of public confidence in elected government and in its political institutions is unmitigated, a citizen-led initiative is a potent tool to promote democratic electoral process for the gradual regaining of such confidence. Fraudulent elections since Martial Law cannot be reversed immediately. But people-led mechanisms that will ensure informed and empowered voters, and will create culture of accountability to politicians through a citizen-led parallel process—which will shadow the government electoral process even if it will not reverse electoral result immediately—are important steps to rebuild public confidence since this mechanism will enhance people’s participation and exacts accountability from electoral stakeholders.

The over-all objective of the action is to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao, Philippines by contributing to build public confidence in the electoral process, helping to deter fraud, intimidation and violence pursuant to the universal principles that apply to the conduct of elections, such as fundamental freedoms and political rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

By the grassroots and for the grassroots, the HEALING DEMOCRACY Project seeks to organize the Maranaos to act as one in contributing to the restoration of the democratic electoral process in Lanao del Sur by empowering the electorate through voter’s education; and monitoring and assessing the conduct of the electoral exercise in the Province according to international standards and best practices for genuine democratic elections.

The problems to be addressed by this project are: (a) the vulnerability of the Lanao del Sur electorate to vote-buying and other electoral irregularities characterized by violence and fraud, especially now that for the first time, poll automations will be implemented, and (b) the lack of a systematic and comprehensive monitoring of the electoral process where cases of fraud and violence have been documented, analysed and popularized, and which final results will be a leverage to put together relevant recommendations.

The project’s components are the following:

1. Establishment of Voters’ Collectives, a group of responsible voters that will replicate the citizen voters’ education in schools, communities, workplaces and anywhere else possible. All sectors present in the community will be represented in the Collectives (i.e., youth, women, farmers, et al). These Voters’ Collectives will also serve as electoral watchdogs in their respective municipalities, and will serve as wide network for the monitoring and documentation of election-related fraud and violence.

2. Institution of the Voter’s Mobile, an advocacy vehicle that will become the mobile center of awareness-raising activities to persuade the public to exercise their right to suffrage, and will develop collective sentiment against poll-related fraud and violence. The vehicle will also embody the collective aspiration of the Maranaos for a free, honest and peaceful election. Awareness-raising is a powerful tool to create a favourable public opinion in favour of a free, honest and peaceful election, thus, this undertaking will maximize all forms of public information and education necessary.

3. Setting-up of the Voters’ Observation Center that will gather, document and systematize data related to electoral fraud and violence in the sphere. The Center will be the midpoint where all the grassroots people’s organizations and support groups will converge to monitor the electoral process. The Center will serve as a media hub that will release timely information and press releases to the national and local media regarding the conduct of the electoral process in the area. It will establish a hotline for reports from the ground, and provide internet to facilitate access to media and related institutions for exchange of information before, during and after the election period.

Conscious that the Lanao del Sur electoral trouble is a part and parcel of the cancerous Philippine electoral system, the Maranaos represented in the Healing Democracy project will work hand-in-hand with interfaith communities of Mindanao and the country to address not only issues of elections, but on wider concerns of democracy and human rights. Interfaith partners will render their relevant professional capacities to the project.


In observance of the Women’s Month, we take pride in introducing to you our logo: a Maranao woman nursing a ballot box. In Maranao, a woman is a healing icon, and a peace pact facilitator in times of conflict and clan wars. The woman depicted in the logo is nursing a ballot box that symbolizes the ‘sickly’ electoral process in Lanao del Sur. The HEALING DE­MOCRACY Project seeks to underscore the women’s role in the restoration of the democratic electoral process in Lanao del Sur. Together with the other Maranao sectors, and with the aid of the interfaith communities, we hope that this humble contribution from our end will help push for that day where democracy and human rights are enjoyed by the Lanao del Sur grassroots.

Finally, we are cognizant that not until the systematic electoral fraud perpetrated by powerful individuals in and out of the government will be decisively and comprehensively stopped, we can never have fair elections and get elected rightful leaders in Lanao del Sur and elsewhere.

Asslamu Alaikum!

HEALING DEMOCRACY is a Maranao grassroots project that seeks to organize and educate the Lanao del Sur electorate, and monitor the conduct of the May 2010 National Elections in the Province. It enjoys support of interfaith communities from various parts of Mindanao.

Spearheaded by Consortium of Christian Organizations for Rural-Urban Development (CONCORD), Inc, HEALING DEMOCRACY partners include Union of Liga ng Kabataang Moro (LKM) Lanao; People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM); Ethnic Groups Development Resource Center (EGDRC); Rural Missionaries of the Philippines; Community-Based Health Services (CBHS) Northern Mindanao; Suara Bangsamoro Northern Mindanao; Kawagib Alliance for the Advancement of Moro Rights; Samahan ng mga Lingkod na Artista sa Mindanao (SALAMIN); and Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) Lanao.

HEALING DEMOCRACY: Unleashing Interfaith Initiatives towards the Promotion of Democratic Electoral Process in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao, Philippines is a European-funded project under the program European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) Philippines.

HEALING DEMOCRACY can be reached through mobile numbers 0905-152-9921 (TM) or 0939-131-4539 (Smart).

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