MANILA -- It is that time again when Filipinos choose their next leaders. In the Philippines, the election season, which happens every three years, spells a festive mood as candidates spare no effort to woo voters. It is also, however, a season marred by unrest and violence.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and other government agencies work together to ensure safe and peaceful elections.
Among the preparations for the polls undertaken by the poll body is to determine the intensity of election-related violence in a certain area of the country.
For the 2019 polls, the Comelec used a color coding in classifying election hotspots. These are Category Green, Category Yellow, Category Orange and Category Red.
Category Green refers to areas that do not have security concerns and are generally peaceful and orderly, while Category Yellow are areas of concern, which means that these have a history of election-related incidents in the last two elections and intense political rivalry, and these had been previously declared under Comelec control.
Category Orange, meanwhile, means areas of immediate concern where there is serious armed threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and other lawless elements; while Category Red means areas of grave concern, which exhibit combined factors under the Yellow and Orange categories that it may warrant the motu proprio (on its own) declaration of Comelec control.
Over 900 hotspots for May 2019 polls
The number of election hotspots in the country is now at 941, higher than the 701 recorded in February.
This came after the poll body declared the whole island of Mindanao, the entire province of Abra and the towns of Jones in Isabela and Lope de Vega in Northern Samar under Category Red.
“So we’ve seen an increase in the number of election hotspots. It is tracked from the declaration of martial law in Mindanao because of the unrest. Unrest is one of the factors in declaring an area as a hot spot," said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez in an earlier interview.
The decision to declare the four areas as election hotspots was based on the suspected poll-related violent events in two previous electoral exercises, as well other threats from insurgent groups.
The entire island of Mindanao is under Martial Law until December 31, 2019, nearly two years after the Marawi siege.
According to PNP data, a total of 223 places have been identified areas of concern (yellow category), 382 areas of immediate concern (orange category), 94 areas of grave concern (red category).
Of the 94 areas of grave concern, 27 are in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), 19 in the Bicol region, seven each in Calabarzon and Western Mindanao, six each in Mimaropa and Western Visayas, five in Northern Mindanao, four each in Soccsksargen and the Cordillera region, three in Eastern Visayas, two each in Central Luzon and Davao region and one each in Caraga and Cagayan Valley.
Regions without areas of grave concern include Ilocos, National Capital Region (NCR) and Central Visayas.
In the NCR, five areas -- Manila, Caloocan, Pasay, Mandaluyong, and Malabon – have been classified as areas of concern.
The Election Period for the May 13, 2019 NLE started on January 13 and will run until June 12.
Under the law, the poll body may place any political subdivision under its immediate and direct control and supervision if, among other things, there is a history of - or current - intense political rivalry among contending parties, as such rivalries could motivate people to engage in violent acts.
“It's actually possible that if your are under Category Red, you can declare Comelec control without undergoing a tedious process like getting feedback from the locals or from the AFP or PNP. The declaration of Category Red itself means it can possibly be under Comelec control," Jimenez said.
Once an area is placed under Comelec Control, the poll body will immediately take control over all national and local offices in the affected place.
Also, the Comelec exercises full control and supervision over all national and local law enforcement agencies, as well as military officers and men, assigned or deployed in that area.
The poll body has placed the municipality of Daraga, Albay and the City of Cotabato have been placed under the control of the poll body last January 15. The order is effective until the end of the election period
Jimenez noted that voters in areas of concern will be casting their votes in the same way as voters in areas not under the control of the poll body.
“There is no difference as far as voting process is concerned. It does not mean that an area under Comelec control means the elections will be supervised by the military. It’s still the same. Teachers will serve as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI),” he said.
The poll body official, however, said the Comelec is keeping a close watch on law enforcement personnel in areas declared under its control.
“In the context of the actual voting procedure, it only means the Comelec is more focused on the movement of the police and the military. They cannot act without our approval,” Jimenez added. (PNA)