Canadians caught in gun battle in Lanao
The most intense experience amongst the PIOM observers was that of Canadians, Randall Garrison, City Councilor in BC, Carol Crabtree, and Australian, Joyce Ann Mercer who were caught in a middle of a gun battle in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur in ARMM on the morning of Election Day.
Garrison described what he saw in an interview with Reporter. As the precinct was about to open in Tugaya at about 10:30 am, there was a scuffle between mayoralty candidates, a fistfight that escalated into a gun battle. Then “armed men, accompanied by a police man came into the compound with their guns drawn and began firing. And the police did nothing to stop it.”
“There were about 3,000 voters waiting to vote… There were several people injured from the stampeding as well as the gunfight.” Hit by a stray bullet, 19-year old Aslia Panda lost her life while her brother 12-year old Bolke was wounded. “The gunfire stopped at five to noon for prayers, when the observers left. Reports from their local partners said gun violence resumed in the afternoon.
A police escort and a network of people from Healing Democracy prepared and followed through with a contingency plan, including a safe house where they hid for an hour and half while shots rang out.
“The international observers were the safest people in town… We are very grateful for the family who took us in… In true Filipino hospitality, when we ran in there, the mother said, ‘Can I make you lunch?’ But the firing got too intense for anyone to stay above window level.”
Garrison held, “I think the presence of international observers helps to reduce violence… I think it’s important that we all bear witness and try to help people that are struggling against violence on a daily basis, and don’t have the luxury of leaving… We are very worried about reprisals against the people who helped us.”
After video of the intense gun battle was shown to all of the observers on May 14, all commended the cameramen for their bravery. A foreigner said this was the most powerful thing she saw that day’s sharing. The videographer, Raymond Villanueva said, “No, the reflective reports of all of the groups are more powerful.”
There was no failure of elections declared in Tugaya. According to Sun Star, petitions have been filed by watchdogs to delay the proclamation of the winners because of the violence supported by reports from the international observers.
Video of the gun battle in Tugaya can be viewed at http://www.kodao.org/video/foreign-observers-kodao-reporter-witness-gunfight-tugaya-lanao-del-sur; and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cFjfxG2_MM