Isnaji running in ARMM polls

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — With his Constitutional rights still intact, Indanan, Sulu Mayor Alvarez Isnaji, jailed for his alleged involvement in the June 8 kidnapping of ABS-CBN reporter Ces Orena-Drilon and three others, will be among the seven candidates for the gubernatorial post of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Aug. 11.

Isnaji, who has maintained his innocense on the four counts of kidnapping-for- ransom charges filed against him by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, will be battling six known rivals led by incumbent ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.

“Mayor Isnaji filed his certificate of candidacy and he can’t be prevented from running in public office until he is convicted by the court,” said Jose M. Tolentino, an official of the Commission on Elections.

However, PNP deputy chief for operations, Deputy Director General Emmanuel R. Carta said allowing Isnaji to leave the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame to campaign will depend on the court.

“The ball is on the hands of the court. We will just follow any court order in this case,” said Carta, the overall commander of the PNP National Task Force ARMM Elections.

Tolentino, at the same time, called on ARMM residents particularly its 1.5 million registered voters, to be vigilant to prevent possible vote-buying and other election irregularities.

Tolentino assured there would be “no automated cheating” in the ARMM polls. “Vote-buying can be addressed by vigilant people. One thing is certain here, automation can prevent cheating,” he said.

He said they would conduct a mock election on July 22 and ask the public to witness it. “There will be testing and sealing of the machines,” he said.

ARMM police director, Chief Supt. Joel R. Goltiao said once the machines are sealed, police will keep them under close guard and nobody will be allowed to touch them until elections day.

Goltiao said follow-up operations to get the kidnappers of Drilon, her cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama and Mindanao State University Professor Octavio Dinampo would continue despite the elections preparations.

“The operations to get the kidnappers will continue until all suspects are accounted for,” he said.

The Department of Budget has released P7.2 million to the police to help it defray expenses in the ARMM security preparations.

Tolentino said they have requested P30 million from the DDB but only P18 million has been released. “We’re asking the DBM to release the remainder of the fund,” he said.

Tolentino said that counting of the votes will not be held inside Army camps in ARMM.