Friday, December 11, 2009

Poll official accused of helping Ampatuans cheat dies

By John Unson
The Philippine Star
Updated December 12, 2009 12:00 AM

Original Story:

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao, Philippines – A poll official accused of keeping thousands of voters’ identification cards for the Ampatuan clan has supposedly died of “heatstroke” in Saudi Arabia
, leaving unanswered questions on why ID cards were buried near the house of Shariff Aguak Mayor Anwar Ampatuan.

Allan Obpon, the municipal election officer here, died last Friday while on a pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, his relatives said.

Obpon was preparing to return to the country following the completion of his pilgrimage.

Authorities were planning to invite Obpon to shed light on why thousands of voters’ ID cards were kept hidden in the residential compound of the patriarch of the Ampatuan clan, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.

In a related event, StratPOLLS, a research group, revealed yesterday that registered voters in Maguindanao have almost doubled in the last five years.

Professor Alfredo Sureta Jr. cited Commission on Elections (Comelec) records showing that as of March 17, 2009 the number of registered voters in Maguindanao has almost doubled from 334,287 in 2004 to 601,057 this year.

“household population of the province per NSO (National Statistics Office) data is 710,829 in 2007. The national average of the number of voters per province is one-half of the household population. This means that 85 percent of the population of Maguindanao are voters,” Sureta said.

Meanwhile, Maguindanao’s provincial election supervisor Estelita Orbase has confirmed that the voters’ ID cards soldiers found in different spots here were authentic.

“The ID cards found by soldiers and policemen are authentic. The problem now is that the election officer of Shariff Aguak died of heatstroke in Mecca,” Orbase told reporters.

Obpon’s relatives said he was immediately buried somewhere in Saudi Arabia in keeping with Islamic tradition of burying their dead within 24 hours from the time of death.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which has operational control of military units enforcing martial law in the province, had intended to invite Obpon for questioning by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group before his superiors in the province.

Soldiers found yesterday more voters’ IDs near the residence of Sajid Ampatuan, the acting governor of the province.

Sources from the regional office of the Coemlec said the ID cards, now kept at the provincial election office, are ready for examination by experts from their central office anytime soon.

The sources said Comelec would have to investigate first when the cards were issued to determine if their owners registered as voters before the 2007 synchronized local and national elections or during registration periods prior to the Aug. 8, 2008 regional elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Some residents here, among them relatives of the Ampatuans, said Obpon could be among more than 30 people whose trip to Mecca were sponsored by Ampatuan Sr.

Ampatuan Sr. has a tradition of sponsoring trips of his favored town mates’ hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.

StratPOLLS urged the Comelec to look at the drastic increase in numbers of registered voters in Maguindanao.

“The Comelec should look at this and clean up the record in that province as well as in the other provinces of the country,” Sureta said.

Sureta cited that Comelec records dated April 28, 2004 showed that the number of registered voters in the provinces under the ARMM totaled 1,057,458 with the following breakdown: Basilan (excluding Isabela City) 117,467; Lanao del Sur, 275,572; Maguindanao (excluding Cotabato City), 334,287; Sulu, 209,677; Tawi-Tawi, 120,455.

He said the total number of voters in ARMM was 1,504,024 on April 20, 2007 with the following breakdown: Basilan, 181,445; Lanao del Sur, 396,722; Maguindanao, 336,774; Shariff Kabunsuan, 198,280; Sulu, 250,571 and Tawi-Tawi, 140,232.

As of March 17, 2009, Sureta said the total number of voters in ARMM was 1,692,468 with the following breakdown: Lanao del Sur, 459,012; Maguindanao, 601,057; Sulu, 280,527; Tawi-Tawi, 156,027 and Basilan, 195,845.

Maguindanao is widely perceived as the bailiwick of President Arroyo where massive cheating allegedly occurred during the 2004 presidential elections and the 2007 senatorial elections.

‘Followers of Ampatuan Jr. behind ambush’

Meanwhile, investigators were sure that followers of detained Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. were behind Thursday night’s ambush here of Cotabato City’s police director and his escorts transporting recovered weapons of the Ampatuans to General Santos City.

Gen. Anthony Alcantara, chief of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the suspects targeted a police car carrying Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane, but retreated after Dangane and his men managed to pull over and return fire.

The suspects were positioned along a stretch of the Shariff Aguak-Isulan Highway traversing a mango farm of detained mayor Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people in nearby Barangay Salman in Ampatuan municipality.

– With Jose Rodel Clapano

Original Story:

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