GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/21 January)— The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has cleared this city and nearby South Cotabato province of any potential election watchlist area or “hotspot” for the midterm national and local elections on May 13.
Lawyer Jay Gerada, South Cotabato election supervisor, said Monday their assessment showed that the area’s peace and order situation has remained relatively stable and that “they don’t foresee any majorelection-related security problems to come up in the upcoming polls.”
Comelec-South Cotabato’s operational and administrative coverage comprises this city and the province’s 10 towns and Koronadal City, the provincial capital.
Citing a security assessment released by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, he said the area was so far considered as among the most peaceful areas in the entire Mindanao.
“We have not identified any hotspot in the area, although we’re looking at some possible areas of concern,” Gerada said in a press conference.
The official clarified that election “areas of concern” are localities wherein poll-related rivalries have started to heat up but are still considered manageable in terms of their overall peace and order situation.
He said those under the election watchlist or hotspot category comprises areas that were already considered for placement or declaration under Comelec control due to the possible escalation of election-related violence.
The identified areas of concern are the entire municipalities of Tampakan and T’boli and Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu, he said.
Tampakan town was previously considered as a hotspot area due to the recorded election-related murders in the locality during the 2001 and 2004 elections.
But the area’s security classification has been downgraded by the PNP and Comelec due to its “clean record” in terms of election-related violence since the 2007 polls.
T’boli town was cited as a potential area of concern due to the reported presence of various rebel groups and criminal elements. Also cited was the ambush a few days before the 2001 elections on the campaign caravan of then mayoralty bet and outgoing vice mayor Salvador Ramos.
Lake Sebu’s Barangay Ned, which is among the province’s remotest areas, made the list due to the confirmed presence of armed groups and the escalation of violence in some parts of the area since last year due to a long-drawn land dispute.
Gerada assured that the security, as well as the peace and order situation in the identified areas of concern, are currently under control as far as their office and local authorities are concerned.
“Our only problem so far is the accessibility of some remote barangays, especially those hosting some of our polling places,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)