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More areas in ‘red’ poll list

FINAL CHECK. A personnel of the Commission on Elections conducts a final testing and sealing of the vote-counting machines (VCMs) that will be used for the Oct. 30 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections at Pasong Tamo Elementary School in Quezon City on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. Manny Palmero
Vito Barcelo, Joel E. Zurbano & Macon Ramos-Araneta

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday said more areas could be placed under its “red category” amid rising election-related violence across the country ahead of the Oct. 30 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE).

Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia said the number of areas under this category has risen to 361, with the addition of 119 areas, mostly from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

With five deaths reported this week, Garcia said the number of areas under its red category could still go up to prevent further bloodshed before the Oct. 30 BKSE.

“Historically, barangay elections have been more problematic in terms of peace and order compared to regular local and national elections,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were conducting patrols and inspections in critical areas to avoid fighting among candidates.

“Our police and military personnel will go down to the barangay to ensure that it will be peaceful,” he said.

The latest election-related violence incidents were the killing of two candidates for village council and a supporter in Barangay Rosary Heights 12 in Cotabato City on Monday.

A report from Lt Col. Carmelo Mungkas identified the fatalities as Nur-Moqtadin Butucan, a candidate for village council in Barangay Rosary Heights (RH) 12; Alfar Singh Ayunan Pasawilan, a candidate for village councilman in Barangay Kalanganan 2; and supporter Faizal Abas, also of Barangay Kalanganan 2.

In Masbate, a farmer, Abraham Dolore was killed while Nehemias Sayam, a candidate for barangay chairman, and another resident, Jewel Sayam, were hurt in Barangay Tan-awan in Placer town.

Meanwhile, a candidate for barangay councilor, Juvy Pintor, was killed while incumbent barangay chairperson Joseph Martines was wounded in Barangay Maingaran in Masbate City.

The Comelec said it will proceed the BSK elections as scheduled in the province of Negros Oriental, which has been placed under the Comelec Control.

The poll body ruled that there is no justifiable reason to postpone the 2023 BSKE in the province.

“The public does not support postponement, and the PNP and the AFP have expressed confidence in the peace and order situation in the area, citing no real threat to the safety, security and orderliness of the upcoming elections,” Garcia said.

Garcia said that an area can be put under Comelec control if there is a history of intense rivalry among contending parties. Such rivalries could motivate people to engage in violent acts and incidents of politically motivated violence involving candidates and supporters.

The Comelec will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation areas under its control and act accordingly based on reports on the ground.

The National Capital Region Police Office has deployed 300 men from the Regional Mobile Force Battalion (RMFB) to assist law enforcement in maintaining peace and order during the BSKE in the BARMM.

The deployment of additional troops to BARMM was made following a recent shooting in Cotabato City, resulting in at least three fatalities, including BSKE candidates.

NCRPO director Brig. Gen. Jose Melencio Nartatez Jr. said the troops, who were transported to Awang Airport, Cotabato City, completed the Basic Internal Security Operations Course and underwent General Orientation and Special Electoral Board seminars.

The additional men will enforce election laws, assist election officials and staff, and provide security to polling and canvassing centers, and other convergence points.

At least 10 members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal group joined the RMFB personnel on the mission.

Despite the recent shooting, poll officials said this year’s election-related violence remains the lowest in BSKE history.

Ahead of the elections on October 30, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian urged the Comelec, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the PNP to ensure that teachers on poll duty be fully protected.

He noted that teachers serve as front-liners in elections and may come under threat.

Five people were killed – including three candidates for barangay councilor – while five others were injured in separate shooting incidents in Cotabato City and Masbate City on Monday, prompting the Comelec to call for stricter measures against loose firearms.

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