‘Peace and order in Abra still manageable’
CAMP DANGWA, La Trinidad, Benguet — Days before the May 13 mid-term polls, the political situation in Abra province which was earlier placed under the Commission on Elections’ ‘red’ category remains manageable, a poll official said.
“I make this pronouncement with the PNP (Philippine National Police) and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). As of now it is under red category and whatever will be the outcome, it will be beyond my control, it will be the en banc’s decision whether to place Abra under Comelec control,” said lawyer Maria Juana Valesa, regional election officer of the Comelec Cordillera on Wednesday.
She said that should security problems in Abra escalate, it is up to the Comelec en banc to place Abra under the poll body’s control.
Aside from Abra, the Comelec declared the entire Mindanao; Jones, Isabela; and Lope de Vega in Northern Samar as election hotspots. The decision was based on poll-related violent events in two previous electoral exercises, as well as threats from insurgent groups.
Lawyer Dexter Barry Cawis, provincial election officer of Abra appealed to the public to be vigilant and report possible threats to their rights as voters and even violations of laws relating to elections.
He also urged Abreños to exercise their right to vote and cast their votes early.
“After casting their votes, umalis na sila para hindi na sila nagka-crowd sa election day at para wala na sila roon kung may mangyari man. Ang advice sa kanila is go early, magboto (leave the place to avoid crowding on election day and so that they will not be there in case there will be [peace and order] incidents. Our advice to them is vote and cast their votes early),” Cawis said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Tuesday.
“We hope for a peaceful election in Abra, walang masaktan o magkasakitan lalo sa supporters at candidates (there will be no victims or casualties especially the supporters and candidates),” Cawis added.
He said that during a dialogue with political groups in Abra facilitated by Valesa and Police Regional Office Cordillera director, Brig. Gen. Israel Ephraim Dickson on May 2, the candidates committed to advising their supporters to remain calm.
“They gave their assurance naman and hopefully magkatotoo ang mga assurance nila na walang mananakit at walang gagawa ng masama during the election day (They gave their assurance and hopefully they will abide by their commitment that they will not hurt anybody and will not cause trouble on election day),” he said.
Several incidents of election-related violence and harassments are now under investigation.
Some of these incidents, Cawis said, include the exchange of gunfire in Tayum town involving a barangay captain and a mayoralty candidate; the harassment case committed against Partido Demokratiko Pilipino vice gubernatorial bet Ann Bersamin; the alleged vote-buying in Lagayan town which is now pending before the Comelec en banc; the discovery of the cadaver of a barangay captain who is an identified supporter of a mayoralty bet in Pilar town that is tagged as “suspected election incident”; and the vote-buying incident in Lagangilang town which nearly led to a gunfight.
The most recent is the spraying of bullets on the house of a candidate for councilor in Pigidan town on Sunday evening.
The Comelec has earlier identified the five precincts in Lagayan town as areas where policemen will serve as members of the Election Board. Teachers in the town refused to accept election duties due to fear.
Amid these incidents, Cawis reiterated the call for peaceful elections in Abra, a perennial election hotspot.
To secure the elections in the region, a total of 6,244 police and 1,700 military personnel were deployed. A bigger number of personnel were deployed to Abra, according to Dickson.** PNA