• Comelec identifies 7 areas of concern

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    AT least seven areas around the country, including one city in Metro Manila are among the possible areas of concern that would be closely watched in the coming local and national elections by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

    Human Rights chairman Jose Luis Gascon and Comelec chairman Juan Andres Bautista on Monday identified them as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the provinces of Masbate, Abra, Laguna, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan, and San Juan City in Metro Manila.

    Gascon and Bautista signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the monitoring of human rights-related violence during the conduct of the May 9 elections.

    Gascon said that the ARMM, Masbate, Abra, Laguna, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan were among the specific areas where they would field trained human rights monitoring teams to lessen if not eliminate the human rights-related violence.

    “We are focusing on priority areas. This is why we are coordinating with the Comelec in areas of concern or hotspots, hoping that we would be able to minimize election-related human rights violence,” Gascon said, adding that coordination is also being made with the Philippine National Police (PNP).

    Bautista, for his part, pointed out that it is possible that areas that were considered as hotspots or areas of concern in the past elections may no longer be included in the list because the incumbent candidate is unopposed.

    “On the contrary there are areas that were not hotspots but now we are giving special attention because there is stiff competition among candidates, like San Juan,” the Comelec chief added. The mayoralty post in San Juan City is being contested by incumbent Mayor Guia Gomez and former close ally, incumbent Vice Mayor Francis Zamora, son of House Minority Floor Leader Ronaldo Zamora.

    Gascon said the most common human rights related violations during election were intimidation, threat, harassment, violence, preventing people to campaign and restricting freedom of movement.

    Gascon explained that the agreement with the Comelec is the first ever in the world, adding that through the MOU the CHR would now serve as the complainant in all cases to level up the chances of seeking a conviction.

    “No complaints against election related violence has prospered (in the past). The witnesses refused to testify because they are threatened. Through this process, we are hoping that it will prosper because of the level of protection on the witnesses,” Gascon added.

    According to Gascon, 31 civil society groups have joined CHR’s Bantay Karapatan sa Halalan (BKH) and many more organizations have signified their interest.

    “We are partnering with civil society groups and other monitoring groups. We need volunteers in areas where we have no presence. We tied up with Namfrel [National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections] and other groups with experience on electoral reform monitor or HR monitor to be deployed in the provincial level,” he further said.

    Gascon said they were targeting a full capacity of 10,000 volunteers to be deployed across the country.

    Commissioner Luie Tito Guia said that all kinds of election-related violence and human rights violations are ground for disqualification under Section 16 of the Omnibus Election Code.

    “One of our most important rights is our freedom to vote. If there is intimidation, threat, violence or incidents of vote buying, they restrict our freedom to vote,” Guia added.

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