LAMITAN CITY, Basilan – At the registration centers in this city, one will not fail to notice young individuals grouping themselves outside or inside the designated registration rooms.
It is positive to note that the younger generation here is now trying to actively exercise their right to vote in the upcoming elections—but here’s the catch: many of them are not just young but very young.
From their looks, they are under 18 years old, the minimum age pegged by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to become registered voters.
In one of the registration centers inside the Lamitan Central Elementary School, located at the heart of this city, a group of young boys quietly sat as they wait for their turn to be called by an election officer so their biometrics can be taken.
In an interview with MindaNews, the boys said most of them are out-of-school youths and some of them are tricycle drivers.
Al (not his real name), one of the very young-looking applicants, was hesitant to talk when asked what his age was.
Egged by his friends to answer the question, Al said he recently turned 18.
Meantime, Jul (also not his real name) told MindaNews he does not know his real birth date.
When pressed on how he knew that he is already eligible to register, he responded: “Pinapunta lang ako ng mommy ko para mag-register (I was asked by my mommy to come here to register).”
The term “mommy” generated laughter among his friends.
These scenes inside a registration center is not new, according to a barangay hall worker in the village of Matibay.
The barangay hall worker, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said many minors were grouped and paid to register.
“Manada aki ta paga ciento peso para manda ng maga bata man register (Many here are paying the minors P100 to register),” the barangay hall worker said in Chavacano.
Willy Daraug, Lamitan City election officer, said they also received these kind of reports but added the Comelec has a scheme to address the issue of underage registrants.
“Before a registration form is release to a registrant, he or she should passed the interview. The interviewer will have to determine whether the applicant possesses all the qualifications of a voter. They have a guideline on how to go about it,” he said.
Levi V. Lafordeza, of Basilan’s Comelec, said many those who were interviewed due to their seemingly underage appearance claimed that they were originally from Basilan but have returned from Sabah, Malaysia.
Thaiba S. Anwar, provincial management committee head of the Citizen Care, Inc., which is independently monitoring the ongoing general re-listing of voters here, confirmed the same observations throughout the island province of Basilan.
“Based on our monitoring, there are prevalent cases of politicians using underage people to register as voters, and the hakot system (hauling) from barangays,” she said.
According to her, these irregularities are rampant particularly in far-flung towns such as in Maluso and Lantawan.
Other irregularities also observed were the active involvement of barangay officials inside the registration centers, who were particularly helping registrants file their registration forms.
Nicdao A. Lani, a village councilor of Malinis, who was inside one of the registration centers, claimed that “village councilors are allowed inside the registration centers but not the village chiefs.”
“Ang mga barangay kagawad ang okay kasi alam nila kung sino-sino ang tao sa barangay nila (Village councilors are allowed inside the registration centers since we know who are the people in our village),” he told MindaNews.
He admitted encouraging people in his village to register but denied that the orders came from politicians.
Lani said they want their registered voters to increase to augment their Internal Revenue Allotment and “for the list of the registered voters to be cleaned.”
Before the village has 2,000 registered voters but now it’s about 1,300 because others have transferred or went to school, the problem in our village is we have falling registered voters, he said.
In a press briefing earlier this week in Zamboanga City, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. warned village officials and police officers not to meddle inside the registration centers because that is not their job.
“They don’t have business inside the registration centers,” he said, adding that the Comelec will file charges against village officials and police personnel who would interfere in the registration process.
Daraug, the Lamitan election officer, said the Comelec has created several schemes to counter the trickeries of wicked politicians.
“There are politicians that are unscrupulous. You know, you cannot make them agree to what the law says because they have other agenda in their minds,” he said.
Daraug said the poll body has a process to filter data, particularly those of double registrants.
“So when we have the list of those double registrants, we are required by Comelec Manila to inform the registrant the barangays where he or she has registered. If he chooses, for example, barangay A, then we will delete his name in barangay B,” he explained.
Those who are found to be double registrants would not be automatically removed in the voters’ list.
“No automatic removal because the Comelec will have to determine if the registrant deliberately registered more than once,” he said.
The Comelec will have to inform the double registrant and will be given a chance to choose which of his registration will be considered or deleted, Daraug added.
Another remedy is for an interested party to petition the removal of a double registrant from the voters’ list by filing a case in court for violation of the Omnibus Election Code, he said.
Daraug admitted that the cleansing of the voters’ list is a long process.
The ongoing voters’ registration in the ARMM, which started on July 9 and will end on July 18, was aimed at cleansing the old voters’ list, which the Comelec described as bloated.
Mudzna H. Aksaud, a mother, said the ongoing general re-listing of voters in the autonomous Muslim region “is a start to bring back the trust of the people to the government.”
“Mas mabuti ito para walang ng dayaan (This is good to avoid cheating),” she told MindaNews.
President Benigno Aquino III has described the ARMM as the cheating capital during elections and needs to be reformed.
The ARMM groups the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Basilan and Marawi.
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews, The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development.)