BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has identified at least 18 localities in Negros Occidental as potential election hotspots in this year’s national and local elections.
Initially, the Comelec identified 12 areas of concern in the province. But elections supervisor Roberto Salazar, in a media interview on Friday, February 11, said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are assessing and validating six more localities.
He did not name the areas but said these were tagged as having a presence of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
The local elections supervisor defined three levels of concern.
An area of concern is when there is intense political rivalry and election-related violence; an area of immediate concern is when there is a presence of NPA or armed groups; while an area of grave concern exhibits the combined factors of the first two categories.
Considered as an area of concern is Don Salvador Benedicto, while areas of immediate concern are the cities of Silay, Victorias, Himamaylan, and Kabankalan, and the towns of Manapla, Toboso, Binalbagan, and Hinobaan.
Tagged as grave areas of concern are Escalante City and the towns of Candoni and Moises Padilla.
In the 2019 elections, Moises Padilla was placed under Comelec control due to intense political violence and rivalry. It even prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the town to assure residents it is safe to vote.
On February 8, the Moises Padilla police and Comelec office, with the help of church and civic groups, invited candidates to sign a Peace Covenant for the May 9 elections.
At least two Moises Padilla councilors, Vincent Garcia and Jose Morito Flores, filed their certificates of candidacy in October 5, 2021 with police escorts, walking from their jail cell at the town police station to the Comelec office. Both are charged with the alleged murder of a councilor in 2019, a killing that the New People’s Army had already claimed.
In November 2021, a clash between government troops and NPA rebels forced 800 individuals to flee their homes.
On Sunday, February 13 Binalbagan police chief Major Ellendie Rebusquillo said two local cops and a teenager were injured when communist rebels detonated a land mine and fired at a police vehicle in Barangay Biag-ao.
Rebusquillo said the male teenager was hit in the crossfire. The cops, he added, were responding to reports that rebels had killed one person in the barangay.
The provincial police office said there were three injured “on the side of the PNP” and did not mention the youth.
The Binalbagan police chief confirmed the killing, saying the man was suspected of being an Army asset. He said residents had reported seeing four teams of around 80 rebels.
In August 2021 activist and poet Kerima Lorena Tariman died in a clash between the NPA and the Philippine military’s 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Silay City, less than 30 kilometers north of Bacolod. – Rappler.com
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