Despite martial law, military to follow Comelec in Cotabato City
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Cotabato City, the de facto capital of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is in a precarious situation.
The epicenter of political tension in the region, it is now both under martial law and Comelec control. While it seems a tricky set-up, the Comelec and the military said they make it work to secure the Bangsamoro plebiscite and the May 13 midterm elections.
Having placed the city under Comelec control, the poll body now stands above the military and the police in Cotabato City as far as the structure of command is concerned.
"There's a new chain of command. We take orders from the Comelec," said the Army's 6th Infantry Division Commander, Major General Cirilito Sobejana, in a phone interview on Saturday, January 19, This is because the Comelec is "primarily placed in charge as per their resolution."
Following its guidelines for declaring areas under its control, the Comelec has formed a special task force to secure elections in Cotabato City. The task force is chaired by lawyer Ernie Palanan, and vice-chaired by Sobejana and Soccsksargen top cop Chief Superintendent Eliseo Rasco.
This task force forms what Palanan, in an interview with Rappler, described as a "collegial body" to keep the city functioning and secured as local officials take a back seat until the end of the election period on June 12.
As stated by Comelec’s rules, the task force's powers include the supervision of administrative activities by the city, the deployment of cops and soldiers in the area, and the selection of officers to command them.
The Omnibus Election Code, after all, allows the Comelec to "exercise direct and immediate supervision and control over national and local officials or employees, including members of any national or local law enforcement agency and instrumentality of the government required by law to perform duties relative to the conduct of elections."
Police, military still main implementors
While Palanan heads the task force, the implementation of the orders is still mostly executed by the police and the military. The generals have also been overseeing Cotabato City longer and are accustomed to its threats.
This is why Palanan, previously a Comelec officer in Caraga Region, also defers to the advice of the men in uniform in their group before making decisions.
The police and military also still have the autonomy to continue their day-to-day operations like patrols, checkpoints, and keeping the curfew without the need to ask for permission from the Comelec
"There is no such thing as micromanagement," Sobejana remarked, when asked about the dynamics from the top.
The Comelec, according to Sobejana, gives them a wall against local officials who would try to intervene in the historic plebiscite and the elections.
Despite martial law, local officials used to still keep their posts and enjoy administrative control in their posts. With Comelec stepping in, officials are effectively tied outside their offices.
"Ang tendency kasi nitong mga politicians ay gustong i-influence ang maging resulta [ng plebisito at elections]. 'Pag 'di under Comelec control, they remain head of that locality, so they have a certain amount of responsibility, kaya nangingialam sila," Sobejana said.
(Because the tendency of these politicians is, they want to influence the results of the plebiscite and elections. If we were not under Comelec control, they remain head of that locality, so they have a certain amount of responsibility, so they intervene.)
The confident Sobejana added: "We have a better control of the situation. It (Comelec control) added more teeth to our function and mandate… The perceived irregularities will not happen, especially the hostilities that could be launched to spoil the peace process." – Rappler.com