MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday inked a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to ensure a safe and peaceful Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) on Oct. 30.
"Nagpirmahan kami ng memorandum of agreement (MOA) para tulungan nila tayo hindi lamang sa tinatawag nating kontra bigay, na laban sa vote buying at vote selling, kundi hiningi na rin natin ng tulong ng Armed Forces of the Philippines sa mga areas na binanggit ko kanina gaya ng sa Bangsamoro (We signed a MOA for them to help us, not only in Kontra Bigay or [the campaign] against vote buying and vote selling, but we also asked help from the AFP [in monitoring] areas I have earlier mentioned, like the Bangsamoro [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao])," Comelec chairperson George Erwin Garcia said in a press conference.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., meanwhile, said his department and the military would work with the poll body to ensure orderly village and youth polls, which he described as a vital foundation of the country’s democracy.
Under the MOA, the DND would assist the poll body’s Committee on Kontra Bigay that was formed to combat vote buying and promote collective efforts to remove its influence on the democratic process.
“Ito po ay talagang talamak na nagpo-pollute sa ating demokrasya. Ang tao, naiimpluwensyahan ng mga bagay na hindi kanais-nais. Kaya po ang fault niyan ay nasa namimigay (These actions pollute our democracy. People get influenced by undesirable things. That is the fault of those giving [bribes during elections])," Teodoro said.
Meanwhile, AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. signed a separate MOA with Garcia, where the poll body deputizes the military to ensure free, orderly, and peaceful barangay elections.
The AFP chief subsequently received from Comelec a check worth PHP40 million as a support fund for the military’s administrative, operational, and logistical needs as they perform their functions relative to the upcoming elections.
Garcia, meanwhile, confirmed that he has received the initial list of 246 barangays under the red category of the election hotspot list from the Philippine National Police (PNP).
He, however, said the poll body has yet to look into the list of these barangays for monitoring.
Garcia said he also plans to meet with authorities in Socorro, Surigao del Norte this week, even though it is not classified as an area of concern.
He noted that Socorro’s residents must be able to cast their votes "without pressure," despite hounding issues involving the Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (SBSI).
"Sana di maapektuhan yung ating halalan (We hope that the election would not be affected), otherwise, the Comelec will have to enforce the law and utilize all the resources and the powers provided for by the Constitution to ensure that the right to suffrage is protected," Garcia said.
Two polls in 2025
Garcia said its partnership with DND and AFP for the 2023 polls would help them prepare for two consecutive elections in 2025 – the midterm elections and the next BSKE.
He, however, mentioned how the DND and AFP underscored the need to attain peace and order before the election proper for them to focus on external defense.
"Nafo-focus ang kanilang pwersa, ang kanilang energy, ang kanilang resources dito sa pagsisigurado na magiging maayos at malinis ang ating halalan (Their forces, energy, and resources are focused on ensuring an orderly and clean elections)," Garcia said.
"Samantalang kung tayo ay masisiguro na nating maayos prior to elections, focused sila sa panlabas, alam naman natin ang kinakaharap na problema (While if we could ensure that everything is in order before the elections, [they can be] focused on external affairs, we know the problems we are facing right now)."
To date, the poll body is also planning to file a motion for reconsideration to move the conduct of the BSKE 2025 to 2026, following the decision of the Supreme Court.
In June, the high court declared unconstitutional Republic Act 11935 moving the village and youth polls from Dec. 5, 2022 to the last Monday of October 2023.
However, it recognized the legal practicality and necessity to proceed with the polls this year.
"Handa naman ang Comelec, kaya lang medyo magkakaroon tayo ng sobra na extra effort para lang po mapaghandaan 'yung eleksyon para sa 2025 (The Comelec is ready, but we might need extra effort to prepare for the 2025 elections)," he said.
The poll body said the motion for reconsideration shall be based on the grounds of "shortened term of BSKE, regularity and periodic election, and administrative and operational considerations." (PNA)