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GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) said they are already fully prepared for the upcoming barangay and youth elections in the special region, and there will no longer be a postponement.
Comelec-BARMM Director Ray Sumalipao said the elections will proceed as scheduled, despite the request from the police in the BARMM to consider postponing the October 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections due to its inadequate manpower.
Sumalipao said their current focus is on ensuring a peaceful filing of certificates of candidacy, which is scheduled to take place from August 28 to September 2.
The Comelec has identified 85 barangays in the region as areas of concern, out of a total of 2,732 barangays, including 63 in the Special Geographic Area (SGA) in Cotabato province.
The SGA refers to the 63 barangays in Soccsksargen region’s Cotabato province that voted to be included in the BARMM during a plebiscite in 2019.
At least 30 towns and 10 barangays in the BARMM’s SGA have been pinpointed by the police as high-risk areas where violence is likely to occur during the October grassroots elections.
These towns include 13 of the 24 towns in Maguindanao del Sur, categorized as “red category” areas in a security assessment by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the BARMM.
Also falling under the red category are seven towns in Basilan, eight in Lanao del Sur, and two in Maguindanao del Norte, according to Brigadier General Allan Nobleza, PNP-BARMM director, on Thursday, August 24.
A red category indicates an area of grave concern due to heightened political rivalries, with the potential for violence to erupt at any time, Nobleza said.
Apart from the 30 towns categorized as red, 10 barangays in the SGA in Cotabato have also been designated as red category areas. These SGA barangays comprise Gli-gli, Rajamuda, Balong, Lagundi, Buhatan, Macabual, Pamalian Batulawan, Nalapaan, and Kabasalan.
On Wednesday, August 23, many families were forced to flee their homes as armed clashes erupted once again between feuding groups in Maguindanao del Sur and the SGA.
Army Brigadier General Oriel Pangcog, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, reported a fierce battle in Barangay Sapakan, Mamasapano town, Maguindanao del Sur, involving two factions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vying for control of a piece of land.
Pangcog said sporadic firefights began at dawn and continued throughout the day, leading dozens of families to evacuate their homes in search of safety elsewhere.
On the same day, a gun battle with mortar fire broke out between the groups led by MILF commanders Kutong Talutan and Ato Abas, causing hundreds of residents in the SGA barangay of Nabundas in Pikit town, Cotabato to flee.
The armed confrontation stemmed from a long-standing grudge, known as rido (clan feud), said Major Arvin Cambang, Pikit police chief.
Given the current situation, the police are facing challenges due to insufficient manpower to adequately secure all identified election hotspots in the region, Nobleza said.
He said the current 6,000 police personnel were not enough to ensure comprehensive security measures throughout the Bangsamoro region.
For the SGA alone, Nobleza said the PNP needs at least 1,100 police personnel more to be deployed to quell any unrest that may arise during the elections.
Gun attacks and killings
Speaking on local broadcaster DXMS in Cotabato City on Thursday, August 24, Nobleza said the region has registered about 350 gun attacks from January to August, resulting in numerous fatalities.
Among these incidents, about 21 targeted government officials and employees, including several barangay officials, a factor that prompted Nobleza to ask the Comelec to postpone the October polls by at least two weeks to allow the PNP to focus on BARMM.
In June, Elections Chairman George Garcia said the call by five out of six governors in the BARMM to postpone the October polls lacked sufficient grounds.
Garcia said specific criteria must be met before village and youth polls in a particular area can be postponed.
Based on the Omnibus Election Code, elections can be postponed in any political subdivision in the presence of a “serious cause,” such as violence, terrorism, destruction of election materials, force majeure, and similar circumstances. – Rappler.com