By Stephanie Sevillano

POLL RESOURCES. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) leads the turnover ceremony of government resources to the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday (Oct. 23, 2023) in relation to the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE). Comelec Chairperson George Erwin Garcia assured preparedness for the nearing BSK polls with the help of the PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the Department of Education (DepEd), among others. (PNA file photo) 

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday expressed optimism on the success of Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) despite the rise of areas classified under the red category.

Lahat ng indikasyon ay nagsasabing magiging maayos ang eleksyon sa Lunes (All of the indications show there will be an orderly election on Monday)…We are setting a standard not only for this year’s election but we are setting a standard for the election to come,” Comelec Chairperson George Erwin Garcia said in a speech.

Garcia made the remark during the poll body’s turnover ceremony of government forces and resources to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

He mentioned setting two areas under Comelec control to ensure that voters can exercise their democratic rights with their safety uncompromised, which include Negros Oriental and Libon, Albay.

Minarapat natin na ilagay yun muli hindi dahil sa madaming kaguluhan o violence subalit dahil sa pangyayari nung Marso (We placed it [under Comelec control] not because there’s a lot of incidents or violence but because of what happened last March),” Garcia said in an ambush interview, referring to Negros Oriental.

Alam natin na hanggang ngayon nandiyan pa yung takot sa isip at puso ng ating mga kababayan pero dito sa Libon sa Albay, minarapat ng inyong Comelec na ilagay siya sa Comelec control base na rin sa rekomendasyon ng ating PNP, AFP, Coast Guard at regional Comelec (We know that until now the fear is still there in the minds and hearts of our fellow Filipinos in Libon, Albay. That’s why the Comelec placed the area under its control based on the recommendation of the PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Coast Guard, and regional Comelec),” he added.

Garcia was referring to the killing of a barangay chairman candidate and counselor last August, as well as the presence of private armed groups (PAGs) in the area.

The Comelec also reported an increase in villages placed under the red category or areas being closely watched due to existing threats.

As of October 20, barangays under the red category jumped to 361 from 242 last September 20, with most of the additional figure coming from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), equivalent to 55 barangays.

Barangays under the orange category also increased slightly from 1,257 to 1,271, as well as those in the yellow category which is now at 1,199, higher than last month’s 1,077.

Earlier, the Comelec said these classifications are based on several parameters including the occurrence of suspected election-related incidents, the existence of intense political rivalry, possible employment of partisan or private armed groups, the occurrence of politically-motivated election-related incidents, and history of declaration of Comelec areas of concern and Comelec control.

Garcia said the prioritization of personnel and resources’ deployment is not merely based on the Areas of Election Concern (AES), but on the joint operation plan of PNP and AFP.

He also clarified there should not be a concentration of uniformed personnel in a single town, creating an unnecessary idea of threatening presence of violence.

Sa bawat polling place hangga’t maaari 1 sundalo, 1 PNP lang miyembro ang nandyan at ang layo pa nila ay 50 meters doon sa mismong polling place (In each polling place, as much as possible, one soldier and one member of PNP only, with 50 meters distance in between in the polling place),” he said.

He noted that even in the red category, the military and police presence must also be minimized.

To date, around 180,000 personnel are expected to be deployed nationwide from the PNP alongside almost 100,000 forces from the AFP for the BSKE.

Election rules

Garcia, meanwhile, commended the adherence of BSK bets to the stringent measures of Comelec against premature campaigning, illegal campaigning, and vote buying.

Sumusunod ang mga kandidato sa ating mga patakaran, bagamat mayroong iilan na na-issuehan ng show cause orders para sa premature campaigning (The candidates are following our election rules, although there were some who have been issued with show cause orders due to premature campaign),” he said.

Garcia said figures of allegedly erring candidates are relatively lower than the number of abiding ones.

As of October 20, the Comelec filed 165 disqualification petitions and issued around 7,103 show cause orders against BSK bets due to premature campaigning.

Around 341 BSK bets also received show-cause orders for illegal campaigning after the first two days of the official campaign period.

The Comelec is set to discuss on Wednesday the possible suspension of the proclamation of candidates facing disqualification petitions for premature campaigning, vote buying, and illegal campaigning. (PNA)