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Poll hotspots inch closer to 1,000 – Albayalde

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The number of election hotspots in the country rose to 941 from 701 in February, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said on Monday.

In a press briefing in Camp Crame, PNP chief, General Oscar Albayalde said based on the latest validated information, the election hotspots comprise 57.60 percent of the country’s 1,634 cities and municipalities.

Of this number, 131 towns and cities are classified as areas of concern (Category Yellow), 238 are classified as areas of immediate concern (Category Orange); 570 are categorized as areas of grave concern (Category Red), and two areas are now under control of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) — Cotabato City and Daraga, Albay.

“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. 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,” Albayalde told reporters in a press briefing on Monday.

The places tagged as areas of concern means that there was a history of election-related incidents there in the last two elections and intense political rivalry and that it had been previously declared under Comelec control.

Meanwhile, areas of immediate concern are those where there is serious armed threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and rogue elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other lawless elements.

Areas of grave concern exhibit the combined factors under the yellow and orange categories such that it may warrant the motu proprio declaration of Comelec control.

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 such rivalries could motivate people to engage in violent acts.

As of March 20, Albayalde said that 118 Red areas were identified in ARMM, 93 areas in Northern Mindanao, 73 areas in Caraga Region, 72 Zamboanga Peninsula, 49 areas each in Davao Region and Soccsksargen, 45 areas in Eastern Visayas, 28 areas in Cordillera Amdinistrative Region, 21 areas in Bicol Region, five areas in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon), four areas each in Central Luzon and Western Visayas, two in Cagayan Valley Region and one in Central Visayas.

He added there are no Red Areas in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Ilocos Region.

While stressing that more cops are stationed in Camp Crame, Albayalde said these are deployed to different critical areas where they are also tasked to be a part of special operations task groups headed by a senior officer.

“This is probably just to ensure the deployment of personnel there are
enough. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is really violence in red areas or areas of grave concern, especially now, we all know that the BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law) plebiscite just concluded. We want to ensure peaceful elections because we still do not know, there are some who opposed the BOL and I think this was considered by the validation committee,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Albayalde said focused police operations will be intensified against private armed groups, criminal gangs, wanted persons, gun for hire groups and loose firearms as the campaign period for local level starts on Friday.

“Based on historical data of previous elections, election related incidents resulting from intense political rivalry are expected to escalate during this period,” he said.

Earlier, the PNP chief pointed out 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 8-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

-Neutralization of gun for hire and criminal gangs

He also reminded the PNP personnel to ‘remain apolitical’ to ensure clean and honest elections.

“We will ensure to remain apolitical and to protect the will of the electorate by ensuring honest, orderly and peaceful elections in May,” he said. (PNA)

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