MANILA -- Police forces nationwide were ordered Thursday to go on heightened alert status while the poll body urged local politicians to follow elections laws, as the campaign period for local candidates starts Friday.

Local positions that are up for grabs in the scheduled polls are: 222 seats for the House of Representatives; 80 each for governors and vice governors; 762 provincial board members; 120 each for city mayors and vice mayors; 1,514 each for municipal mayors and vice mayors; 1,346 for city councilors; and 12,116 for municipal councilors.

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Citing previous experiences during local elections, Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said the police organization is expecting some incidents related to the upcoming elections, particularly in the local level.

"We have long anticipated, as experienced in the past elections, that election-related violent incidents are at the local level and not on the national level," said Espina.

He said the declaration of heightened alert, which calls for half of the manpower of every police units to be on-duty, was part of the PNP’s efforts to maintain peace and order during the campaign period by conducting more beat patrol operations and maintaining high police visibility.

"So we have to be on guard and prevent violence from occurring at the local level, particularly in areas declared as immediate areas of concern," Espina said.

Election laws

The declaration came as Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rene Sarmiento urged the local aspirants Thursday to follow election laws so as to prevent the filing of election-related charges against them.

“We have come up with resolutions regarding campaign guidelines, we advised them to read these so that they will know what to avoid so that they will not be facing any complaints,” he said.

Sarmiento said the Comelec will continue to monitor if the candidates are following the laws on television advertisements and the posting of streamers and posters.

Under the law, the size of posters should only be two feet by three feet, while streamers should be three feet by eight feet.

"The common poster rule, as simple as it may seem, is the law. If they violate it, then all they do is showing contempt for the law," Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said.

The Comelec has designated common poster areas where candidates should post their streamers and other campaign materials. These include plazas, markets and areas being frequented by the public.

Sarmiento said they expect election-related violence to increase with the start of the campaign period for the local polls Friday.

The poll body official then called on the PNP to be serious in eliminating private armed groups.

In response, Espina assured that the police will increase security alert status throughout the country. He said the PNP high command did not declare the highest alert status to give way for regional and police commanders to increase the security alert status one notch higher, if necessary.

"We have different situation in different areas so it is already a call of the regional and provincial commander whether or not they would elevate it to full alert status," he said.

The PNP has listed 571 localities under its Election Watchlist of Areas (EWA), representing 34.94 percent of nationwide election spots primarily in places where domestic threat groups operate, and areas with a history of Ervi and where PAGs (Partisan Armed Groups) are reported to be active.

It has intensified election security operations in 118 EWAs in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), 50 in Eastern Visayas, 45 in Western Visayas, 44 in the Ilocos-Pangasinan Region, 41 in the Caraga Region, 38 in Central Luzon, and others areas across the country.

Davao

In Davao Region, where local campaign is expected to be intense, the PNP and other law enforcement units assured that they will upgrade their alert level Friday.

Chief Superintendent Pedro Tango, regional director of Police Regional Office (PRO)-Davao, said a different scenario in the campaign of local candidates is expected, thus security is needed.

"This is much-animated because candidates are really reaching out unlike the national candidates that are rarely seen in the local scenario," he said, adding that the local police have already exhausted all remedies to put together in one place the contending candidates.

“We ask them to sign a peace covenant to assure that this will happen," he added.

Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Director Rene Aspera, for his part, said the city police will be doubling its efforts.

“All out na kami, police visibility will be prioritized," he said.

He added that starting Friday, the police will deploy more than 1,250 personnel also in time for the observance of Holy Week and summer vacation.

"We expect na maraming mga dayo na pupunta sa city. Our contingency plan is to be visible at all entry points of the city, sa mga ports, bus stations. But also we expect na mas marami ang bibiyahe dito dahil election period," he said.

Pampanga

In Pampanga, local political candidates are also expected to officially launch their campaign Friday in accordance with the Comelec campaign guidelines.

Liberal Party (LP) congressional bet for second district Adonis Simpao, who is running against President Glorial Macapagal-Arroyo, is set to start his campaign at 12:01 a.m. along with Governor Eddie Panlilio and other LP provincial candidates.

At 5 a.m., Bacolor Association of Barangay Captains head and mayoralty aspirant Jomar Hizon, an independent, would lead a torch parade with his team in Cabalantian at the start of the campaign period.

Two hours after Hizon’s launch, mayoralty aspirant Ron Dungca would have his campaign at his family’s farm. The son of incumbent Mayor Buddy Dungca has vowed to continue his father’s programs aside from his core program on youth development.

In Lubao at 7 a.m., Lakas-Kampi-CMD stalwarts led by President Arroyo and Comelec-declared Governor Lilia “Nanay Baby” Pineda would also launch their campaign after a mass at the San Agustin Church there.

In the City of San Fernando, meanwhile, another Lakas-Kampi team led by former vice mayor Ely “Tiger” Lagman will start its campaign at 9 a.m. with third district re-electionist Congressman Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr.

In Mabalacat, incumbent Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales will also launch his platform on education, health and delivery of basic services to Mabalaqueños at 4 p.m.

Cebu

The campaign activities are also expected to be conducted in several other areas in the country, including Cebu, where local candidates belonging to different parties will kick off their campaign with separate masses.

In Cebu City and Mandaue City, the two main parties in Cebu province will hear mass in the same churches, although at different hours.

In Lapu-Lapu, candidates will do the same when the official campaign period for local offices begins Friday. First they’ll hear Mass, after they’ll begin to woo the masses.

With this, police chiefs nationwide were instructed to secure all parties holding political rallies, regardless of their affiliations to maintain peace and order.

The PNP recorded a total of 249 Election–Related Violent Incidents (Ervi) during the 2004 national elections, resulting in the killing of 41 politicians and the wounding of 18 others.

During the 2007 elections, a total of 229 Ervi were reported wherein 37 politicians were killed and 24 others were wounded.

Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said the Ervi for this year's election is significantly lower compared to the two previous elections, apparently due to intensified campaign against illegal firearms and PAGs nationwide.

There were only 30 Ervi since January 10 this year, wherein 20 candidates were killed and 13 others were wounded, the police said. (FP/BOT and JCZ of Sun.Star Davao/JTD of Sun.Star Pampanga/With Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex)