ELECTIONS are defined not only by electoral rules, but also shaped by social values, politics and culture of the people. In the same way, the security of an election will always be unique to the circumstances in which it was conducted.

The changing forces that shape the national interest and corresponding political agenda makes any election different from the previous one. Security and election officials have identified 558 election hotspots across the country, 43 private armed groups and another 23 in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao area alone.

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International organizations and the security actors are preparing for possible election related violence in the country. Where fear for possible eruption of election elated violence in these hotspots, one may think of how private armies could be controlled by electoral officers when it has existed and are under the control of politicians.

Think about crackdown on the private armies in preparation for the May 2010 elections and it brings us back to the fact that while the constitution bans private armed groups, Executive Order 546 issued on July 206 allowed local officials and the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as ?force multipliers? in the fight against insurgents. The EO allowed local officials to convert their private armed group into legal entities as civilian volunteer organizations.

This was the case on the massacre incident at the Ampatuan town in Maguindanao last November. This is also the context on the proliferation of private armies in other parts of Mindanao and the rest of the country.

But the nature of an election makes it vulnerable to a range of security threats against participants, infrastructure, information and materials. Thus, if electoral officers and security experts ensure peace and order come elections, it should draw on information and expertise from multiple arenas.

While there is a need for high level communication and effective coordination among agencies responsible, the security of an election cannot be drawn up in a short period of time, nor depend solely on reactive strategies.

The country gears up for the first automated elections in its history. With it comes the fear of sabotage, cheating and other forms of manipulation. As before, there are no assurances on the sanctity of the ballot. In a situation where politicians get away with their little acts of cheating and where impunity persists, violence during elections is not far off.

But maybe there is a need to recognize that violence does not only involve loss of life but every single act of indifference which reduces the electoral exercise into mere ritual of excuse. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com