By JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
and NITZ ARANCON
SOME 60 young people from this city and neighboring towns were brought to a municipality in Lanao del Sur to register as voters there using fictitious names, police said Saturday.
The students and out-of-school youth, aged 14 to 16 years old, were made to ride seven vans to Butig town, said city police spokesperson Maj. Evan Viñas.
“It was probable that they came from different schools and areas in Cagayan de Oro and other areas,” he said.
Viñas said a group of students from Iponan National High School was convinced by a fellow student to go for a “joyride” to Iligan City Friday morning, “but they (students) were surprised when the vans they went straight to Butig.”
According to those interviewed by the police, the youngsters were brought to a building in Butig and were told to write fake names on sheets of paper that appeared to be voting registration forms. They also had their thumb prints and their photos taken.
Students told police the building where they supposedly registered as voters has no Commission on Elections (Comelec) signage and the people who assisted them in the registration process had high-powered firearms.
The students also noticed men brandishing weapons in the area. A flag that does not resemble the Philippine official flag was also hanged in the flagpole.
They said they were then given P300 each after registering. They returned to at around 10 pm the same day.
“We are still investigating who brought them to Butig. We want to know if they are an armed anti-government group,” Viñas said.
Based on reports, Butig used to be a stronghold of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Maute Group, a band of extremists that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State who engaged the state forces in a months-long war in Marawi in 2017.
Viñas said part of their investigation was on how the students were able to skip classes without the knowledge of their teachers.
He said some parents went to police at around 7 pm when their students failed come home.
Shortly after, few of the parents were able to get in touch with their children who told them of their experience.
Some of the parents who complained were Gloria Rojonan, Evelyn Estrera, Margie Babatido, Ariel Paclar, and Leonora Jimenez.
Jimenez, one of the parents, said one of the suspects was identified only a “Lao.”
During short stay in Butig, Viñas said the students were told they will be given firearms if they come back, preferably on Sept. 22.
“This is alarming because these students could be recruited by an armed group. That’s why we are really investigating this incident,” he said.