DAVAO CITY -- A top official stressed in a report the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) plans for a peaceful conduct of the May elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).
PNP-Armm Regional Operations and Plans Division Officer-in-charge Siegfriedo Ramos said during the 3rd Election Security Summit of the Citizens Coalition for Armm Electoral Reforms Inc. (Citizens Care) in this city that the police in the autonomous region will follow the PNP’s redeployment plan during elections.
He said they will also coordinate conferences with election stakeholders, shape up security operations, and conduct massive information on the ground to avoid threat groups from illegally influencing the conduct of the May polls.
Ramos also emphasized that PNP-Armm will continue coordinating with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) relative to the delivery and retrieval of poll documents, supplies, forms, paraphernalia and equipments.
"To ensure voter’s safely and freely exercise right of suffrage from any force and/or intimidation, we will tighten security measures to all polling centers and establish checkpoint operation 50 meters away from the polling centers on the election day until the elections is closed," Ramos said.
He said they will also secure all established polling and canvassing centers and deploy 5,578 police, including the reserve personnel, if possible upon the urgency of deployment.
“Also, there will be available hotlines and action centers to fast track information/incidents reports in relation to the holding of National and Local Elections," Ramos said.
Ramos and Eastern Mindanao Command unified command staff Colonel Yerson Depayso admitted Tuesday that keeping peace in the Armm during the May elections is a "big challenge."
The officials said all of the Armm provinces are election watchlist areas (ERAs).
Depayso said although the Armm election in 2008 used automation, this May poll is perceived as "a new challenge for law enforcing authorities."
"We still really do not know what will happen. Expectedly, it will be a big challenge but we are constantly planning for the elections," Depayso said.
"Armm remains volatile due to the monitored intense political rivalry between incumbent Basilan Governor Jum Akbar against Anak Mindanao Party-list Representative Mujiv Hataman, between Giv Bombit Adiong and former mayor of Marawi City Solitario Ali in the province of Lanao del Sur, between Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and Congressman Munir Arbison, and between Mangudadatu and Sinsuat clans of Maguindanao," Ramos said.
In PNP-Armm's assessment, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao have two partisan armed groups (PAGs) each, Basilan has four, Tawi-Tawi has seven, and Sulu has 10.
Tawi-tawi province is perceived to be peaceful, Ramos said.
"In our assessment, the political atmosphere is perceived to be stable but the intense political rivalries of the running candidates cannot be discounted. Other political candidates may use their PAGs, guns, goons and gold to ensure victory," Ramos said.
He added that vote buying is seen to be the most common problem in the region. “The use of PAGs is seen to disrupt the honest, orderly, peaceful and credible conduct of elections.”
Ramos also said that out of Lanao del Sur's 1,155 barangays, 1,085 are categorized as election areas of concern (EAC) and 70 are election areas of immediate concern (EIAC). Out of Maguindanao's 481 barangays, 388 are EACs and 93 are EIACs, while out of Basilan's 210 barangays, 164 are EACs and 46 are EAICs.
In Sulu's 410 barangays, 341 are EACs while 69 are EAICs. All of Tawi Tawi's 202 barangays, on the other hand, are categorized as EACs but none are considered EAIC.
Ramos said no election-related violence has occurred within the month of January, but so far as to the gun ban violations, the PNP-Armm has confiscated 22 firearms and arrested 21 persons.
The role of the law enforcers during the elections was among the concerns of Citizens Care in its 3rd Election Security Summit.
Citizens care is a coalition of 36 non-government organizations, civil society, people's, and sectoral groups.
Participants of the summit received a precinct count optical scan demonstration and a forum on the elections from Comelec-Maguindanao election officer III Maceda Abo.
The summit as funded by the Embassy of Canada-Philippines was convened purposely for Comelec, Armed Forces of the Philippines, PNP-Armm, and civil society election monitors, like the Citizens Care, to give a report or update of what has been accomplished based on the action plan adopted during the 2nd Election Security Summit last February 25, 2008 in Cotabato City.
Citizens Care chair Salic Ibrahim said the summit's output is a concrete action plan that will outline the key issues and concerns with regard to the 2010 elections.
Citizens Care is the lead implementing agency of the Sepveem Armm Phase 3 Project funded by the United States Agency for International Development through International Foundation for Electoral System. (JCZ/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)