THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has maintained that it is unlawful for political parties to support aspirants running in the upcoming village polls on October 28, but it is not a violation for a local elected official to endorse a barangay candidate.
Comelec regional director Renato Magbutay told reporters there is no problem with politicians openly endorsing and supporting barangay bets.
Speaking before the reporters during an election briefing at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) regional office on Thursday, Magbutay said the election law on endorsing candidates covers only prohibiting political parties to throw support, but not individual politicians.
Although the law states that the barangay election is non-partisan and inexpensive, “in their personal capacity they (politicians) can support a (barangay) candidate,” Magbutay said.
But, if there are barangay candidates who violate the election rules, he said anyone can file a complaint against the violator.
Magbutay, however, cautioned that a complaint has to be supported by proof “so we can prosecute them.”
“Pag walang mag-file, wala kaming magagawa (if no one will file a complaint, then there’s nothing we can do),” he said.
He added that for the complaint to prosper, the case must not be based on rumors or hearsay but on hard evidence like photos and affidavits of witnesses.
Also, the complainant must not just execute an affidavit, but pursue the case.
“Complainants should do their part and we will do our part,” Magbutay said.
He said there were cases that the Comelec punished erring bets, citing an instance where a governor was stripped off of his position when the poll body found out he violated election rules and regulations during the election.
A violator could be meted with imprisonment of six years and one day, or he could be disqualified from running in an election, or he could be meted with perpetual disqualification from holding an elective government office.
“The Comelec is doing its job and we need help from everyone to carry out our mandate,” Magbutay said.
Soldiers as BET members?
When asked if the Comelec will allow soldiers to become members of the board of election tellers (BET) where there are no teachers around, especially in areas where the presence of armed insurgents are prevalent, Magbutay said that is not a part of the poll body’s protocol.
“In the absence of teachers (to act as BET), it is not automatic for the army to become BET members,” he said.
The main function of the military, he said, is to secure the BET and not as substitute for the teachers, adding that it is the responsibility of the Comelec to look for replacements if there are no teachers who can serve as the board of election tellers.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police in Northern Mindanao region (PNP) reported that as of Thursday, law enforcers have conducted 4,179 checkpoints, served 86 warrants, arrested a total of 167 persons involved in election-related violations, confiscated 38 firearms, 13 surrendered firearms and 40 other deadly weapons.
Supt. Danilo Pelisco, PNP deputy regional director for operation, said there are 217 barangays in Northern Mindanao which are under 'election watch list.'
Pelisco said the villages which they called “election watch list areas” are potential trouble areas because of the presence of New People’s Army rebels.
Beside the communist guerillas, Pelisco said potential sources of trouble are the family feuds or rido among the candidates in Lanao del Norte.
Pelisco said the PNP has deployed around 1,143 police officers in polling centers in the region.
Bukidnon has the most number of deployed law enforcers with 333 police officers, Misamis Oriental with 306 and Lanao del Norte because of these armed insurgents.
Despite the PNP’s active role in ensuring a successful barangay elections, Pelisco said they are facing challenges especially the absence of communication among police in areas where there is no radio and mobile phone signal.
He said they are also having problems with the transporting of election materials due the insufficient vehicles.
But Pelisco said the PNP is ready to assist and serve the Comelec during the barangay elections on Monday.
“We have scattered more than 3,585 police officers to provide security in the polling precincts regionwide on Monday,” Pelisco said.
2.5-million voters in Northern Mindanao
Magbutay said 2,554,776 voters will troop to 1,905 voting centers located in 8,105 clustered precincts across the provinces of Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Camiguin and Bukidnon provinces.
He added some 4,200 candidates are contesting the 2,320 positions for barangay chairmen across Northern Mindanao region.
In Lanao del Norte, some 962 candidates are fighting for the positions of chairman or Punong Barangay in 932 barangays. For barangay kagawads, the Comelec said some 6,175 have filed their certificates of candidacies.
“You can image how intense is the campaigning. Right now we are keeping our fingers crossed because the incidents reported are only minor like stone throwing,” Magbutay said.
Col. Francisco Pabayo, chief of the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade, said their main concern is the town of Kitaotao in Bukidnon province where communist rebels can easily enter from North Cotabato and Davao provinces.
Pabayo said they are also monitoring the security situation in the towns of Lagonglong and Balingasag, both in Misamis Oriental, where the NPA rebels have been active lately.