CANDIDATES for the barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK or youth council) polls on May 14 began filing their certificates of candidacies as the election period kicked off on Saturday.
The office of the Commission on Elections in Arroceros, Manila was flooded with barangay hopefuls, a scene replicated in towns and cities across the nation, as police began installing security checkpoints to enforce a strict gun ban.
Authorities dispelled security concerns, with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) noting a decline in election-related violence this year compared with previous election years.
DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said during a news conference that the forthcoming polls were expected to be peaceful and orderly.
“The trend [of violence]has been going down from 2010 to 2013 up to this time. The good news is election-related violent incidents during the barangay and SK elections has been in decline,” said Malaya.
In the 2013 polls, there were 57 reported violent incidents, majority of which transpired in Mindanao. In the 2010 elections, there were 98 reported election-related incidents.
“Thus, official reports from the field show a clear declining trend in the past two barangay elections,” he said.
No polls in Marawi
Malaya also said the upcoming elections would be different from the previous ones, citing Mindanao where martial law required a more stringent police presence.
“Mindanao is under Martial Law, so I am expecting there is greater police presence, there is greater military presence, and security forces are deployed all over Mindanao, thus it (violence) would not be as intense as the last election,” he said.
“Most of the time, the presence of lawless elements such as armed groups, makes the barangay elections heated. But if security measures are in place, which we expect to happen, we are confident that the downward trend in terms of violence will continue,” said Malaya.
Under the Guidelines and Procedure for a Secure and Fair Synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections 2018 (SAFE 2018), all Philippine National Police (PNP) units are on alert during the election period and shall ensure compliance of barangay officials with pertinent laws and rules before, during, and after elections; oversee and enforce peace and order measures for the elections; and promote well-informed voting and active participation of people in the elections to combat vote-buying and other related illegal activities.
Comelec information chief James Jimenez confirmed the suspension of the polls in Marawi City, saying that an assessment would take place to gauge if the suspension could be lifted after three months.
He said incumbent officers would be on holdover status until the result of the assessment comes out.
Malaya said “Marawi is a special case” and that the Bangon Marawi Task Force was undertaking efforts to rehabilitate the city.
The poll season kicked off with the setting up of checkpoints starting 12 midnight on Saturday.
In Bataan, Senior Supt. Marcelo Dayag, Bataan police director, and lawyer Gilbert Almario, provincial chief of the Commission on Elections, at dawn on Saturday made the rounds and inspected checkpoints in the province like in Samal town.
“The preparations of the police were complete and in place. Our security plan is ready. I don’t think there will be hitches,” Dayag said.
The provincial police director said that checkpoints should be well-lighted and must have signboards that show the names of the election officer and chief of police of the respective towns and cities, as well as their contact numbers.
Listed on the checkpoint signboard in Samal are the names of Election Officer Maribeth Abadecio and Chief Inspector Emelito de la Cruz, town chief of police.
“Checkpoints will be set up at random, and will be moved from time to time to the public will see that the police are visible. Not only at night but also during the day,” Dayag said.
Almario said the Comelec in Bataan was ready for the polls, with the appointment of teachers as precinct officials.
“The ballot boxes are now at the town hall,” the provincial election supervisor said.
He said election checkpoints would last until May 21.
The elections will push through on May 14, 2018. We think nothing will stop it,” Almario answered when asked if the elections would go ahead as planned.
In Quezon City, the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) implemented the order for its police stations to establish Comelec checkpoints effective 12:01 a.m. on April 14, to enforce a gun ban in relation to the villages and youth polls.
Jovencio Balanquit, the Comelec assistant regional director for the National Capital Region, and the QCPD director, Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, led the kick-off ceremony at the QCPD Grandstand at Camp Karingal in Sikatuna Village, Quezon City.
Eleazar together with Senior Supt. Ronaldo Ylagan, deputy district director for operations and Supt. Ramon Pranada, chief of district operations and plans division, inspected the checkpoints set up by Stations 1 to 6.
The inspection was conducted to spot check procedures, and reiterate the strict adherence to PNP and Comelec rules and regulations covering checkpoints, particularly the human rights of motorists.
Eleazar emphasized the general guidelines to his men:
the motorist/s must slow down, dim the headlights and turn on cabin lights;
the occupants cannot be compelled to step out of the vehicle without probable cause like the presence of a gun (even only a part of it) or contraband in plain sight;
only a visual search may be done where the officer simply looks into the vehicle and may use a flashlight at night;
no person may be subjected to a physical or body search in the absence of probable cause or reasonable ground to believe that a person has just committed, is about to commit or is committing a crime, or is breaking the law;
the public is not obliged to open the glove compartment, trunk or their bags and cannot be compelled to do so without probable cause; and
checkpoint personnel may briefly question travelers during which the vehicle occupants are required to answer, such as asking for origin or destination, or why they are out at a late hour.
Eleazar urged the public to “please bear with any inconveniences that the checkpoints may cause you. It is the PNP’s mandate as deputized by the Commission on Elections to ensure safe and peaceful barangay elections.”
First gun ban violator
Also on Saturday, a 16-year-old caretaker was arrested by police operatives for carrying a gun while creating trouble in a remote barangay here.
He was likely the first suspect arrested in the implementation of a gun ban under the direct supervision of the Comelec in relation to the holding of barangay elections.
Chief Insp. Dave E. Mahilum, town chief of police, identified the suspect as Rene Milano-Balindan, a native of Zone 5 in Brgy. Balatas, Naga City and residing at Brgy. Sapang of this town.
Balidan, who worked as caretaker of a farmland owned by a bigtime businessman was arrested by police operatives led by Insp. Jesus Tambalo at about 12:30 am on April 14 about 30 minutes when the gun ban started.
A caliber 9:mm pistol loaded with bullets and owned by his employer was confiscated from the suspect. He used the gun in terrorizing the residents in the village.
Mahilum said the suspect failed to present any documents to show that he was authorized to carry gun outside the farm he was guarding.
The residents of Sapang confirmed that the suspect was always creating trouble in their village every time he was drunk.
A case for violation of Republic Act 10591 in relation to the Comelec gun ban will be filed against the suspect on Monday considering that his arrest was on Friday.
with JING VILLAMENTE AND JAIME G. AQUINO