CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday, March 23, said they placed 217 villages in Northern Mindanao on their watchlist due to the likelihood of violence and irregularities during the election period.
Police said 72 of the villages – all in Lanao del Norte – were under the Red category or “areas of grave concern.”
The announcement by Brigadier General Benjamin Acorda, police director for Northern Mindanao, came just two days before the start of the campaign period for local candidates.
Acorda said the police and Comelec have started keeping an eye on 217 barangays from across Northern Mindanao. They would also put in place measures to thwart any attempt to disrupt the elections in the villages.
Comelec regional director Francisco Pobe said there were 90 villages in Bukidnon considered as “areas of immediate concern.” These account for 19.39% of Bukidnon’s 464 barangays.
In Lanao del Norte, the 72 barangays under the red category account for 5.8% of the 462 villages in the province.
Officials also placed 19 other villages in Lanao del Norte under the “areas of concern” or yellow classification.
In Misamis Occidental, five barangays were being monitored as areas of concern while a dozen others were in the list of areas of immediate concern or under the orange classification.
The Comelec also said there were also 19 barangays in Misamis Oriental considered as areas of immediate concern.
Acorda said authorities were gathering more data and the list of areas of concern in the region could grow longer.
He said the Comelec and police would further map out plans during another security meeting with military officials.
Acorda said the list would likely be updated, and this would be the basis for the deployment of security forces to the villages.
The military, according to Acorda, would augment the police and deploy soldiers in far-flung villages categorized as “geographically Isolated.”
The deployments would require the approval of the Comelec because the police and the military were trying to avoid criticisms of partisanship.
Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Olaivar, police spokesperson for Northern Mindanao, said officials opted to list down the barangays instead of the municipalities where they fall under so that there would be no need to declare entire towns as “hotspots” just because of the probability of election violence and irregularities in some of their villages.
In February, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) proposed the consolidation of “high-risk” voting areas in six towns in Lanao del Norte during the election period.
A joint report made by the MNLF and MILF identified the towns of Nunungan, Munai, Pantar, Tagoloan, Matungao, and Magsaysay in Lanao del Norte as areas where election violence may likely take place.
There have been several election-related violence in the Lanao del Norte since 2013, and there were at least three incidents in the 2019 elections.
On April 3, 2019, several people were hurt when supporters of rival political families in Tawantawan and Bangcola Umpa figured in shootouts.
Two explosions rocked Lanao del Norte on the eve of the Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite in February of the same year. The first was a grenade explosion in Maranding town, followed by another explosion in Kauswagan town on the same day.
On April 25, 2013, a convoy of Nunungan town mayor Abdul Malik Manamparan was ambushed, killing 13 people.
The mayor of Pantar, Mohammad Exchan Limbona, was killed in neighboring Iligan City on December 29, 2016. A former mayor of the town was arrested in connection with the Limbona murder case. – Rappler.com