By Genalyn Kabiling and Martin Sadongdong
The conduct of the 2018 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Elections was generally peaceful based on the reports from the police and military, a Palace official said Monday.
The military and police reports about this year’s village and youth elections were sent to the Office of the President for regular updates, according to Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go.
“As of now naman mayroong mga iilang insidente, pero generally peaceful naman po [As of now, there are a few incidents but the elections were generally peaceful],” he said in an interview with DZRH.
He said the President had earlier directed the police and military to “stay neutral” and keep peace and order during the Barangay and SK elections.
Go, however, acknowledged that some cases of violence and allegations of vote-buying have marred the elections.
In Davao region, Go said the elections were also generally peaceful although there was a reported shooting of an incumbent chairman of Barangay Pangyan, Calinan, Davao City. He was referring to Antonio Guatno who was shot by authorities after allegedly resisting an implementation of a search warrant for illegal possession of firearms.
33 election period deaths
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said that at least 33 persons have been reported killed since the start of the election period last April 14 up to Monday’s elections.
Citing data from the National Election Monitoring and Action Center (NEMAC), PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said 18 of the victims were elected government officials, four were running candidates, three were former government officials, two were supporters, and six were civilians. The data were recorded from 6 a.m. of April 14 to May 14.
Albayalde noted that the 33 were victims of the 42 violent incidents recorded.
Aside from the 33 deaths, 26 persons were wounded while 24 others were left unharmed in the recorded violent incidents, he said. He, however, clarified, that the data were significantly lower compared to the 109 victims recorded in 57 violent incidents in the 2013 elections.
Go said they also received reports of alleged vote-buying in some places.
He noted that vote-buying allegations hurled by rival political parties against each other cannot be avoided especially in bitterly contested polls. He, however, pointed out that poverty was not a valid reason for a person to sell his ballot during elections.
Go, who voted in his hometown, instead encouraged the public to “go out and vote wisely,” saying the future of their community is at stake. He said barangay leaders provide the frontline services to the constituents especially in times of disasters and other emergencies.
Suspected vote-buying in Calamba, Laguna, as well as in Lucena and Calauag, Quezon. There were also cases of arrest for illegal possession of unlawful election paraphernalia in Lucena.
Among the arrests for alleged vote-buying incidents include one Corazon Del Rosario, 63, a barangay health worker.
She was accosted by policemen after allegedly giving money to one Antonio Latumbo, a registered voter, in Barangay Milagrosa, Calamba, as reported by city Councilor Saturnino Lajara and electrician Loreto Garea.
Police said they found two P500 bills individually placed inside a small brown envelope. She will be charged with violation of Omnibus Election Code Section 261 (a) for vote-buying, police said.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) admitted receiving many reports of alleged vote-buying but it only verified a few cases.
“As far as we are concerned, what we need are the verified reports, but as far as verified reports, dalawa or tatlo palang na lugar ang meron (only two to three reports were verified),” said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.
No immunity for winners
As this developed, Albayalde likewise warned winners in Monday’s electoral exercise who are on the government’s drug watch list that their victory will not spare them from investigation and punishment should they be proven to be involved in illegal drugs or any unlawful activity.
“What we can do is to further validate the allegations against them and conduct a case build-up if they are really in the [drugs watch list],” Albayalde said.
“If there is basis, then we can file a case or apply for a search warrant. It [winning from the elections] is not an excuse. Winning does not absolve them from their involvement in illegal drugs,” he said.
Last month, PDEA released a “validated” drug watch list which includes the names of at least 216 village officials. The PDEA said the information was based on military and police intelligence information.
But Albayalde clarified that until the allegations are proven, the winning candidates on the drugs watch list will have to perform their duties as duly elected village officials.
“The [Commission on Election] will proclaim the winners. The PNP’s part is for intelligence and case build-up only if they are really involved. Remember, these are mere allegations [being included in drugs watch list] and it is also not a reason for them to be deprived of exercising their powers once they get elected,” he said.
Albayalde assured the winning officials on the drug watch list that they will be accorded due process while investigation is being conducted.
“It’s a watch list, not a warrant of arrest,” he said.
The PNP had previously advised the public not to vote candidates whom they know are involved in illegal drugs.
“You know who they are because it is your barangay, so do not vote for them or else you will suffer the consequences,” said then PNP chief, Director General Ronald dela Rosa.
The PNP chief also warned that policemen who abandoned their duties or intervened in favor of relative-candidates will face sanctions.
Albayalde vowed to run after policemen who either did not show up or abandoned polling precincts which they were assigned.
“This is the reason why we created the Red Teams. They were instructed to account discreetly if the policemen assigned to man polling precincts were really there,” said Albayalde.
The Red Teams, he said, were complemented with counter-intelligence operatives in the provinces and in the regions,” he added.
Aside from the reports of the Red Teams, he said they are also monitoring if the 2,875 policemen whose relatives are running for any barangay posts have intervened.
Those policemen were reassigned to other places long before the barangay elections so as not to influence the barangay polls.
“We will investigate if any of them intervened but as of this time there is none,” said Albayalde.
“If we would find out that they intervened even if they were already reassigned, they will be charged accordingly,” he added.
Police as BEIs
Meanwhile, Albayalde said there were areas, particularly in Mindanao, where policemen acted as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) because the teachers who were supposed to be BEIs pulled out from the duty out of fear.
He said 872 cops deployed in Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan and Lanao del Sur have acted as BEIs, and more than 100 were on reserve status.
“Remember, before they were tasked to be BEIs, the Comelec has given them a one-day seminar. Those men are territorial police, they were trained and they are prepared for that duty,” he assured.
But the Department of Education (DepEd) reported that the conduct of the 2018 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections was “generally peaceful” as far as public school teachers who fulfilled their poll duties are concerned.
In a press briefing at the Election Taskforce Operation (ETF) and Monitoring Center currently set up in the Bulwagan ng Karunungan of DepEd Central Office in Pasig City, key officials said the opening of polls earlier was “generally peaceful” with “no reports of violence to schoolteachers who serve as volunteers for the elections.”
The military likewise reported that the conduct of elections in Northern Luzon was also generally peaceful.
Northern Luzon Command spokesman and concurrent Public Information Office (PIO) chief Lt. Col. Isagani Nato said that as of Monday afternoon they have not yet received any reports of untoward incidents. (With reports from Aaron Recuenco, Leslie Aquino, Francis Wakefield, and Ina Malipot)