Ceasefire monitors to monitor barangay polls

The government and MILF peace panels’ Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) will separately field their monitoring teams while Bantay Ceasefire will be mobilizing 400 of its estimated 700 volunteers to monitor so-called “hotspots.”

Capt. Cesar Sol, head of the secretariat of the government peace panel’s CCCH, said Maguindanao, where majority of the candidates are running unopposed,  may have fewer areas to monitor but in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte and other areas, the election fever is so intense.

Sol said they are going to monitor flashpoints to ensure neither the military nor the MILF is dragged into the electoral fight.

Already, one person was killed while another was wounded in Barangay Kalipapa, Datu Piang early evening of October 17 as supporters of the incumbent barangay captain and his supposed main rival, traded bullets across the street on the eve of the deadline of the filing of certificates of candidacy. As a result, the barangay captain did not run for reelection, leaving the main rival running unopposed.

The rivals were reportedly backed by the local government and the MILF.

Both Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, government peace panel’s CCCH chair and Von Al Haq, MILF peace panel’s CCCH chair, told MindaNews last week that what happened in Kalipapa was purely politics and neither the military nor the MILF should be dragged into it.

Al Haq told MindaNews they have “continuous effort” to monitor these incidents to ensure no untoward incident happens.

Bantay Ceasefire Coordinator Rexall Kaalim explained  his group does not intend to monitor the conduct of the voting but “will focus on areas where election-related violence  may erupt.”

Kaalim, who said they would be mobilizing some 400 of the over 700 Bantay Ceasefire volunteers, relayed that they have already been conducting an “assessment and inventory” of identified “hotspot” barangays in at least four provinces in Mindanao. He identified the provinces as North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

“Our main mandate is to monitor the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF. But since any election-related violence in many areas in Mindanao will surely affect the truce, we are converting our machinery into a monitoring organization for election-related violence,” Kaalim said.

The Bantay Ceasefire is joined by the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) in its monitoring work.

Gus Miclat Jr, executive director of the IID, said “we do not want to sound alarmist, but our efforts are geared at helping prevent more election-related conflict.”

As of last week, the Bantay Ceasefire has documented at least three deaths and five others wounded in election-related violence that happened in Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte.

Miclat and Kaalim said that they would “try to engage and solicit the cooperation and help of existing ceasefire mechanisms in attempting to avert election-related violence that may affect the ceasefire.”

Kaalim relayed that they have already set meetings with the government and MILF CCCH  to discuss how they could “work together in helping make the elections peaceful.”

“We will request the MILF to come up with a policy pronouncement that would support this effort  of trying to prevent election-related violence that may involve their supporters,” Kaalim said, adding they would also ask permission from the Front's Central Committee to allow them to discuss coordinating mechanisms on the ground with field commanders.

“Preventing conflict, in this particular context, is also helping make the elections more peaceful, orderly and free,” said Shari Palabrica, an IID staffmember who is part of the team that was deployed to work with the Bantay Ceasefire.

The Commission on Elections has placed 149 barangays in Mindanao in its list of potential election hotspots, many of them in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (MindaNews)

 

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