THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) put in place security plans in 39 towns and cities in Region I tagged by the police and military as areas of concern because of intense political rivalries and a history of election-related violence.
Region 1 Comelec Director Julius Torres said of these areas, 16 are in Pangasinan, 10 in Ilocos Norte, seven in Ilocos Sur and six in La Union.
Torres said the list may or may not change as the May 9 synchronized elections draw closer with 2,950,775 registered voters in the region expected to cast their votes.
He said their office is in constant coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure a generally safe and peaceful election in the region.
“We would like to inform the public not to worry of their safety on election day because our security plans with the police and military forces are already in place,” Torres said.
The places to be considered areas of concern are those exhibiting intense political rivalries, the presence of private armed groups and those where election-related violence occurred in previous elections.
In Isabela province, candidates are advised to seek security information to ensure their safety, especially in far-flung and mountain areas.
Isabela Vice Gov. Antonio Albano has made the call on all local candidates to first obtain security information from the police or the military before campaigning in identified critical areas for their safety.
Albano made the call after the killing last week of incumbent Vice Mayor Ronaldo Lucas of Jones town, who is seeking reelection.
Lucas and his group were on their way to Barangay Dicamay 2 to campaign when their convoy was blocked by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. He was executed the same day, and his body was found beside his vehicle.
The incident was followed by the ambush of Barangay San Isidro chieftain Henrich Apostol, also in Jones town, several days after. Unidentified gunmen fired shots at Apostol, who is also running for town councilor, while he and his fellow village chieftains were seated outside his house.
“All local candidates should seek area security from the police or the military, especially if the areas they are going to campaign have reports of sightings of rebels,” Albano said.
The 86th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in San Mariano town has confirmed reports of some areas in Isabela province which are threatened by the presence of rebels, and where an army contingent is necessary to thwart efforts by outlaws on election day.
Lt. Col. Vladimir Cagara, the Army’s Battalion commander, said their camp, which has security jurisdiction in the entire province, is prepared to give security and support to the police not only in the delivery of election paraphernalia but also before, during and after the elections.