ALREADY on full alert, Philippine National Police agents are scouring for more loose weapons and members of Partisan Armed Groups in the country specifically in identified poll ‘hot spots’ ahead of next Monday’s national and local elections, the Journal Group learned yesterday.
PNP spokesman, Colonel Bernard M. Banac said that in particular, PNP chief, Director General Oscar D. Albayalde wants necessary adjustments in their security measures in the entire Mindanao region as well as Jones, Isabela; Lope de Vega in Northern Samar and the entire Abra province which have all been declared by the Commission on Elections as Category Red Election Hotspot.
Stepped-up security measures have also been laid out by different police regional offices in the country where they are targeting identified PAGs and their loose weapons which may be used to disrupt the elections. All 17 police regional directors have also sent-off their men for election duties after reminding them that security is everyone’s responsibility and thus, the citizenry should do its job to immediately report any untoward incidents at the nearest police station.
Banac said all concerned police forces are coordinating with the Armed Forces their security efforts especially in poll ‘hot spots’ which have earned the tag amid validated threats by various groups to disrupt the May polls.
The PNP spokesperson said that since last January 13 up to last Tuesday, 10 individuals have been killed while 11 were wounded in 35 violent incidents related to the mid-term polls. Fourteen other victims were unharmed during those poll-related incidents, he added.
He said the fatalities were either candidates or their supporters whose killings were automatically tagged as election-related since it happened within the election period which will end on June 12.
Already on full alert, the PNP will deploy 160,000 personnel to secure the public during the elections amid the identification of 941 ‘hot spots’ or almost 58 percent of 1,634 cities and municipalities across the country.
The Comelec said the decision was reached in the wake of suspected election-related incidents in the last two elections, together with serious armed threats posed by the New People’s Army, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Abu Sayyaf Group and rogue elements of the Moro National Liberation Front and/or Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other analogous groups in Mindanao.
Shortly after the campaign period for the national election started last February, Gen. Albayalde said 701 areas in the country have been identified as poll hotspots.
The PNP chief said they include 223 areas of concern (yellow category), 382 areas of immediate concern (orange category), 94 areas of grave concern (red category), and two areas under control of the Comelec.
Of the 94 areas of grave concern he mentioned last February, 27 are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 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 Metro Manila, the cities of Manila, Caloocan, Pasay, Mandaluyong and Malabon were classified as areas of concern although NCR Police Office director, Major General Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar said they have not monitored any threats to Monday’s polls although they are not lowering their guards.
Gen. Albayalde said that aside from the mandated responsibilities of the PNP as a deputized agency of the Comelec, police law enforcement and public safety duties for election security operations is contained in the following eight-point SIDEPLAN:
-Strict implementation of gun ban; -Intensified focus law enforcement operations;
-Dismantling of private armed groups;-Early preparation of security and contingency plans;
-Provide security to vulnerable candidates; -Limited reshuffle of PNP personnel;
Accounting of loose firearms; and -Neutralization of guns for hire and criminal gangs.
The PNP chief also reminded his men to “remain apolitical” to ensure clean and honest elections.