PNP keeps tight watch on Mindanao poll ‘hotspots’

ON orders of Philippine National Police chief, Director General Oscar D. Albayalde, all concerned police forces in coordination with the Armed Forces will be tightly guarding Mindanao and other areas in Luzon and Visayas which have been declared as election ‘hotspots’ by the Commission on Elections amid validated threats by various groups to disrupt the peaceful holding of the May 13 national and local elections, PNP spokesman, Senior Superintendent Bernard M. Banac said yesterday.

“The PNP will abide by the declaration of the Comelec on election hotspots and make the necessary adjustments in our intensified security preparations. We shall continue to perform our mandate to enforce the law and ensure peace and order in the run up to the May 13 polls,” said Banac  after the Comelec declared the entire Mindanao region and some parts of Luzon and Visayas as poll ‘’hotspots.’

According to Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, the poll body has declared the entire Mindanao Island Group as a Category Red Election Hotspot, for purposes of the 2019 national and local elections.

He said that the Mindanao Island Group is joined by other Category Red hotspots Jones, Isabela; Lope de Vega, Northern Samar; and the entire province of Abra.

“The Category Red classification may warrant the motu proprio declaration of Comelec control over the  affected area, and the Comelec En Banc may direct the augmentation of personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the need arises,” he added.

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.

The Comelec, the PNP and the AFP identify and classify election hotspots using the following system of classification: Category Green, referring to areas of no security concern and are relatively peaceful and orderly; Category Yellow, referring to areas with a history of election related violence or the existence of intense partisan political rivalry, but without the participation of domestic terror groups;

Category Orange, referring to areas where, in addition to conditions that would qualify an area as Category Yellow, there are likewise serious armed threats posed by domestic terror groups and other analogous armed groups; and Category Red, referring to areas where, while being under Category Orange, the relevant government agencies declare the existence of conditions which may constitute grounds for the declaration of Comelec control.

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.

Under the law, the Comelec 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 these rivalries could motivate people to engage in violent acts.

Gen. Albayalde said they are seriously considering some adjustments in their projected deployment of police units and personnel for election duties in the wake of recent developments.