PLEDGE FOR SAFE 2022 POLLS.  (L-R) Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes, Comelec provincial election supervisor-designate for Negros Oriental lawyer Lionel Marco Castillano, and Brig. Gen. Leonardo Peña, 302nd Army Infantry Brigade commander, led the signing of a pledge of commitment for safe, secure, peaceful, and orderly elections on May 9. The Diocesan Electoral Board of the Diocese of Dumaguete held its general coordinating meeting on Friday (March 11) to discuss security and other updates. (PNA photo by Judy Flores Partlow) 

DUMAGUETE CITY – Leaders and representatives from the church, government, and civilian sectors on Friday signed a pledge of commitment for safe, secure, and peaceful national and local elections on May 9.

The signing followed a general coordinating meeting called for by the Diocesan Electoral Board (DEB) of the Diocese of Dumaguete at the Marian Priests’ Center here to get updates from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and other stakeholders.

“We at the Comelec are very grateful and happy to work alongside the Diocesan Electoral Board because it has brought together all these sectors who have committed to helping us make the elections a successful exercise,” said lawyer Lionel Marco Castillano, the Comelec provincial election supervisor-designate of Negros Oriental.

Castillano lauded the DEB and its “crucial role” especially on providing voter’s assistance desks during the elections.

“The DEB has also complimented some of our efforts such as on voter’s education, by undertaking activities like the candidates’ forum series, as well as the peace covenant signing,” he said.

The meeting included updates from the Comelec and the energy sector, security briefings from the Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office (NOPPO), represented by Lt. Col. Carlos Lacuesta, the deputy provincial director for administration, and Brig. Gen. Leonardo Peña, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army.

The defense forces sector, deputized by the poll body to provide security and ensure the safety of the people during the electoral exercise, is still in the process of finalizing the list of potential “election hotspots” in the province.

The police and military commanders said the final list will be submitted to the Comelec for approval.

Peña said that while the soldiers are primarily tasked to carry out anti-insurgency operations in the hinterlands, as Comelec-deputized agents, they now also serve as peace-keepers during the elections when necessary in support of the lead agency, the PNP.

Lacuesta, on the other hand, said they already have a security plan for the elections and will deploy as many police personnel despite the “lack of manpower resources”.

The NOPPO may have to seek augmentation forces from the regional police office if needed, he said.

Lawyer Fe Marie Tagle, general manager of the Negros Oriental Electric Cooperative II (NORECO II), told the body that they have fully energized its area of coverage.

Her counterpart, NORECO I general manager Juvileo Acabal, whose coverage area is in the northern part of the province, said that so far, about 85 percent of the areas devastated by Typhoon Odette last December have been energized.

He, however, assured that all efforts are undertaken to ensure that by March 31, power will be restored in these areas so the elections can proceed unhampered.

DEB convenor Msgr. Julius Perpetuo Heruela, for his part, informed the group on the activities of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) as the Comelec’s citizens’ arms and watchdog for the elections.

He said DEB has now 15,000 volunteers who are being trained on poll-watching and other election-related activities.

DEB honorary chairman, Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes, in his message to the body, said that “the church has to be involved in politics but in a non-partisan manner”.

“Active involvement in political activities is an act of charity,” according to Pope Francis," he said.

Cortes said the church has to be involved and there are many ways to “evangelize the political field” without engaging in partisan politics.

He noted that the Comelec is the “main actor and we are just a supporting cast, especially in voters’ education”.

The Dumaguete prelate was also clear in saying that “the Canon Law prohibits us (bishops and priests) from being involved directly in partisan politics because of our role as the focus of unity”.

On Sunday, the diocese will release its pastoral statement on the upcoming elections, he said. (PNA)