By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – At least 832 of 2,490 barangays in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be under close police supervision during campaign and voting days for this year’s May 14 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE).
The 2, 490 villages are scattered in the ARMM component provinces of Lanao del Sur, including Marawi City; (1,159), Maguindanao (508), Sulu (410), Basilan, including Lamitan City (210); and Tawi-Tawi (203).
Of the closely monitored 832 ARMM barangays, the Philippine National Police (PNP) placed 172 under “Category 3” or highest level of alert watch warranting the deployment of cops to act as poll officers in lieu public school teachers who have reportedly refused anew to serve on voting day due to “threat of violence.”
The police parameters in classifying barangays into three categories include perceived intense political rivalry, presence of private armed groups (PAGs), organized crime gangs, loose firearms proliferation and activities of threat groups like the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the so-called Maute band.
Areas where the Abu Sayyaf are known to operate are in Basilan and Sulu, while BIFF and Maute guerillas mainly operate mainly in Maguindanao and in some Lanao del Sur villages.
Reports from military and police hierarchies have consistently indicated that intense political rivalries and huge volumes of loose firearms have been pervasive practically all-over ARMM, which had prompted President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to intensify the campaign to recover unauthorized guns and contain local feudal politics in the region.
Chief Supt. Graciano Mijares, ARMM police director, has reportedly started holding a series of meetings with his five provincial directors to map out measures meant to ensure peaceful and orderly Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections on May 14.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., new Armed Forces Chief of Staff and a former commander of the Western Mindanao Command that covers ARMM, was reportedly as saying that soldiers may be deputized as police back-ups in the polls. He cited as an added reason the existing Martial Law in Mindanao being enforced principally by the military.
In Maguindanao, Sr. Supt. Edwin Wagan, new provincial police director, held separate coordinative meetings with civilian authorities including mayors and election officers in preparation for the May 14 polls.
“We are ready to deploy our police personnel to serve as poll workers if agreed and mandated by higher authorities,” Wagan told The Manila Bulletin, adding that the deputized cops have been instructed to observe “utmost fairness.”
Wagan said he was supportive of Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu’s slogan that “politics should be a tool to peacefully select elective leaders, not for violent dominance of a politician against another.”