day 2 in cotabato city

i woke up to 5 text messages and 1 missed call this morning, most of which came from my blockmates. ryan was warning me about an impending conflict in cotabato which he got from our mole in malacanang; tiff was telling me to keep safe while tish texted just to tell me, jobs, uwi ka na.

i don't know if i should feel good about it (your concern dear blockmates is heartwarming) or be more alarmed about recent developments.

but we have to do what we came here for.

so early today we went on an ocular inspection all over shariff kabunsuan and maguindanao. i know i promised my dad i'm not going out of the city but come on, i'm here for the armm elections so i better see the areas where the elections will be held. cotabato city, although the seat of armm, is not even one of them (puzzling, i know). so if i stay in cotabato city, there's nothing to see.

contrary to most people's perception however, shariff kabunsuan and maguindanao are generally peaceful today. except for several checkpoints and a group of soldiers marching with high-powered rifles, and yes, a skirmish in one of the barangays in shariff kabunsuan, most of the reported violence took place in north cotabato, about hmmm, an hour away from the city. what strikes you though is that it's so peaceful, you wonder why there seems to be no activity in the high way on a sunday!

one thing you'll notice also is that it's too clean for an elections. i mean, if there are 7 people running for governor, why do i see only posters of ampatuan all over? there are no signs of his opponents campaigning. i can't even picture out their names, much less their faces.

many observers are saying the contest is over long before election day. i say there seems to be no contest at all!

so why are we still here? well we're here to see how the automated elections will go, if it's feasible at all to adopt the system in the 2010 elections and if so, which among the two systems: one that resembles an upcat exam (shaded ballots read by counting machines) or one where voting is via touchpad (i'll spare you the technical names).

one sad realization during the trip though is seeing huge mansions in the middle of vast fields while lowly nipa huts and dilapidated houses abound next to them. how can you flaunt your wealth in front of people barely able to make ends meet?

the trip took the entire morning. we reached as far as the border of sultan kudarat, the province adjacent to maguindanao. we were back in the city for lunch before we met with the head of the philippine national police in the area. then krizna and i had to finish some things just before the 6pm deployment meeting with the volunteers. had to buy some stuff, have some documents photocopies and look for a tarp printer on a sunday while it's raining.

meeting finally ended at around 9pm but lo and behold we're not yet done. at 12mn, we're still waiting for our posters (which we will post in our vehicles) and we have to deliver them to the different roving teams before dawn!

tomorrow, we leave at 6am for sharif aguak, dropping by at some precincts along the way. we have to be back in cotabato city before lunchtime to prepare for presscon at 1pm. after that, i don't know exactly what will happen. but we'll definitely stay up until the last vote has been counted.

what a long day it's been; the next one is even longer. but the adventure has just begun. good luck to us all.

p.s. it's interesting to meet some old acquaintances while in cotabato city. last night, i met raffy lerma, a former collegian photographer who now works for the inquirer. benjie liwanag of dzbb, whom i first met when i was a trainee reporter in camp crame, is also here. just tonight, i bumped into an orgmate, janice ponce de leon. she is working for probe.

of course, it's also good to meet a lot of new faces, mostly law student volunteers like myself. and people who are connected to you in some way you never imagined.

small world ika nga. too bad we still fight over it.

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