PNP making sure campaign period for local bets peaceful

PHILIPPINE National Police chief Director General Oscar D. Albayalde yesterday said they will be further intensifying their enforcement of the nationwide gun ban and crackdown on criminality to keep peace and order as the campaign period for local candidates kicks off this week.

“Friday, March 29, is the start of campaign period for local candidates and our focused police operations will be intensified against private armed groups, criminal gangs, wanted persons, gun-for-hire groups, loose firearms and violation of Comelec gun ban through service of warrant of arrest, implementation of search warrant, check point operations, police patrol and response; and Oplan Sita/Bakal/Galugad including high-value targets in illegal drugs,” the PNP chief told a press conference at Camp Crame.

According to the top cop, he has ordered the intensified anti-crime drive since based on historical data of previous elections, election related incidents resulting from intense political rivalry usually escalate during the campaign period.

Gen. Albayalde said that with the recent declaration by Comelec of the entire Mindanao under the “Red” category of election hotspots, all 454 cities and municipalities of 27 provinces in the six regions of Mindanao are now listed as Election Areas of Grave Concern.

He said that across the country, there are 570 areas under the “Red” category. As such, the Comelec may, upon further evaluation of the prevailing security situation, place any of these areas under its control.

“Based on the latest validated information of election watchlist of areas, we have identified a total of 941 election hotspots that comprise 57.60 percent of the 1,634 cities and municipalities nationwide,” the PNP chief said.

Of this total number of election hotspots, 131 towns and cities are in “Yellow” category or areas of concern, 238 election areas are now in immediate concern (Orange), 570 are categorized as election areas of grave concern (Red), and two areas are now under Comelec control—Cotabato City and Daraga, Albay.

Gen. Albayalde said that as of last March 20, 118 Red areas were identified in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 93 areas in Northern Mindanao, 73 areas in Caraga Region, 72 in Zamboanga Peninsula, 49 areas each in Davao Region and SOCCSKSARGEN, 45 areas in Eastern Visayas, 28 areas in Cordillera region, 21 areas in Bicol region, five  areas in Calabarzon, four areas each in Central Luzon and Western Visayas,  two areas in Cagayan Valley and one in Central Visayas.

Currently, there are no Red Areas in the National Capital Region and Ilocos-Pangasinan region, he said.

The Comelec 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 and Armed Forces of the Philippines as the need arises,” said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.

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  or Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other analogous groups in Mindanao.