By Leslie Ann Aquino and Aaron Recuenco
More than 160,000 policemen, backed by thousands of soldiers and civilian volunteers, will secure the streets and areas around polling precincts as 78,002,561 registered voters are expected to cast their votes and elect 671,168 new barangay and SangguninangKabataan (SK) officials today.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) assured that it is ready to conduct the Barangay and SK elections today, which was already postponed twice.
For the barangay elections, the Comelec said that up for grabs are 41,948 seats for chairman and 293,636 for kagawad. For the SK elections, 41,948 seats for chairman and 293,636 for kagawad are at stake.
A voter for barangay elections will choose one barangay chairman and seven kagawad, while a voter for SK elections will elect one chairman and seven kagawad.
The Comelec reminded the electorate that voters 18 to 30 will receive both the ballot for barangay and SK elections.
In a bid to maintain peace and order during today’s poll exercise, Director General Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said that deployment of security forces started as early as last Friday. But the big bulk of policemen tasked to secure the Barangay and SK elections were deployed last night to early morning today.
Elite police forces from the Special Action Force (SAF) and the Regional Public Safety Battalions and Provincial Public Safety Company are expected to be deployed in the 7,915 hot spot areas where threat groups such as rebel and extremists groups like the communist and Moro rebels are present.
PNP spokesman Chief Supt. John Bulalacao said that regular police forces were instructed to intensify police visibility and conduct checkpoints and preemptive actions against armed persons and threat groups.
Among those who would be sent out for deployment, according to Bulalacao, are some policemen doing desk jobs, in order to maximize the presence of policemen especially those who would be deployed to secure polling precincts – usually public schools.
“We also have some personnel who are ready to serve as board of canvassers, if and only if, the teachers and their replacements would not show up due to intense threat in some areas,” said Bulalacao.
Police and Comelec officials acknowledged that barangay elections are usually the bloodiest since the rivalry is among the neighbors in a particular community wherein some of the issues sometimes turn personal.
Based on the PNP data, more than 24 people were already killed since the start of the election period on April 14. Most of the casualties are incumbent and candidates for barangay elections and their supporters.
Taking out the guns
Albayalde said one of the tried and tested measures to prevent violence is to take out as many guns on the streets and from the hands of those who have the potential and capability to use firearms during elections.
“That is the reason we really have to intensify checkpoint operations and the implementation of the gun ban in various areas especially in the identified critical areas,” said Albayalde.
The gun ban was implemented on April 14 and will be lifted on June 14. Liquor ban was also implemented a day before the Election Day.
A total of 1,157 people have already been arrested for violation of the nationwide gun ban since it was implemented on April 14. Almost all who were collared are civilians, while six policemen and six soldiers were also included on the gun ban violators’ list.
A total of 996 firearms and almost 7,000 bladed and other deadly weapons were also seized.
Although the poll body already said that the village polls is usually hotly contested, acting Comelec Chairman Al Parreno refused to say right away that the reported 24 shooting incidents are election-related.
“The validation of these shooting incidents, which are mostly in ARMM and Region 8, are still ongoing that’s why we cannot rule right away that it is an election-related violence,” he said.
The PNP also had trainings in case they will be deployed on Election Day. In past elections, policemen were tapped to serve as Board of Election Tellers (BETs) in cases whenever teachers refuse to serve in an area.
As of Friday, the Comelec already finalized the deployment of more than 500,000 teachers, who will serve as BETs, as well as the deployment of their cash cards for their honoraria.
Hot spot areas
Data from the intelligence and monitoring unit of the PNP revealed that there were 7,915 election areas of concern for the Barangay and SK elections this year.
But the number was classified into three color-coded categories:yellow for Category 1, which means there is intense rivalry among candidates and supporters;orange for Category 2, which means there are presence of threat groups such as communist and Moro rebels; and Red or Category 3 which means all the ingredients for violent conduct of elections are present – intense political rivalry and presence of armed groups which could interfere on the election results.
Bulalacao said there are 619 areas which they placed under the Category Red. Of the 619 areas under Category Red, Lanaodel Sur tops the list with 217, followed by
Maguindanao with 196. Both these areas are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Misamis Oriental in Northern Mindanao is on third place with 80 election hot spots, followed by North Cotabato in Central Mindanao with 38.
Albay is on fifth place with 38 election hot spots, followed by Batangas with 35.
In areas where violence would likely occur, Bulalacao said police commandos would be deployed such as in the case of Masbate wherein a company of SAF men were put on standby for immediate deployment if worse comes to worst.
Albayalde, however, said that they expect that killings are expected to dwindle starting Election Day but stressed that they will remain on guard against potential scuffle among the supporters of the candidates.
“The presence of policemen in strategic areas will definitely help in reducing the number of killings but of course expect scenarios of scuffle and verbal tussles among the supporters,” said Albayalde.
He said that they will maintain the Comelec order for the police to be at least 50 meters away from the polling precincts. Those cops, he said, are instructed to conduct intervention by pacifying both the candidates and their supporters.
Police forces nationwide are on highest security alert status for the Barangay and SK elections.
With millions of voters expected to vote, the Comelec advised the public to be prepared before going to the polling center, especially in view of the scorching summer heat.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said voters should bring water to keep them hydrated while they wait for their turn to vote in the different polling centers.
“Bring water. Dehydration, especially in the summer months, is a very real possibility,” added Jimenez.
Classrooms, which serve as polling precincts, are only equipped with electric fans with some not even properly ventilated.
Voters were also advised to bring umbrella and fans as well as wear protective clothing and sunscreen.
The poll body earlier signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Health regarding the establishment of health desks in a number of voting centers nationwide to respond to medical concerns.
No campaign paraphernalia
The Comelec, however, asked voters to ensure that their shirts or fans don’t bear the name or face of the candidate as campaign paraphernalia are not allowed inside voting centers including the bringing of sample ballots.
“Just bring your own list,” Jimenez said.
Aside from health desks, there will also be an accessible polling place for Persons with Disability and senior citizens.
“We have accessible polling places for PWDs, senior citizens and even if they didnt sign up for that, they will be given priority in ordinary precincts including heavily pregnant women,”Teopisto Elnas, Director of the Elections Barangay Affairs Department, said.
The Comelec also established a public hotline in their Command Center in Intramuros, Manila, where the people can make their queries on how to vote, the system of voting, to mention a few.
“The public hotline will take care of public queries, but there is also a Command Center hotline for election workers to make sure we are able to track the progress of elections,” said Jimenez.
“We also have action desks there from every department of the Comelec that’s involved in the elections such as the Finance Services Department, the Packing and Shipping. It will allow us to more quickly localized any problem, more quickly identify accountability,” he added.
Even the partners of Comelec such as the PNP, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Red Cross, Department of Education, among others, will also have action desks in the center.