Police, military to serve as election tellers in ARMM

(VERA Files through MindaNews/25 October)–As in previous elections, police and military personnel will serve as election tellers in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in Monday’s barangay polls, in place of teachers who have refused to render service.

Teachers across the country normally serve as election tellers but fearing for their safety, many in the ARMM opt out of their election duties, Philippine National Police spokesperson Senior Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac said on Thursday.

ARMM consistently has one of the highest numbers of election-related incidents in the country. Out of the 30 incidents recorded since September 28, the start of the election period, five of them—all shooting incidents—occurred in the highly volatile region. (See Clan wars in ARMM: A map)

Among the dead are one barangay kagawad each from Jiabong, Sulu and Parang, Maguindanao.

The security situation is what prompted the Commission on Elections to request the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to take the place of public school teachers who have begged off from serving as election personnel.

The PNP also announced that it will send out one out every two of its desk-bound cops and cadets in training to augment PNP and AFP personnel serving in the elections.

Kapag mayroong lugar kung saan ayaw magsilbi ng mga guro, hindi naman tali ang kamay ng Comelec (In areas where teachers do not want to serve as election tellers, Comelec’s hands are not tied in a bind),” said the poll body’s spokesperson James Jimenez during a joint news conference with the PNP and AFP.

He said PNP cadets have also been used in the past. “The PNP has been training for these possibilities. We have to be flexible at ‘yan ang binibigay ng PNP (and that flexibility is what PNP provides).”

Even citizens, Jimenez pointed out, who are registered in their local polling precincts, can volunteer, provided they have probity and integrity.

Serving as election workers is but one of the many duties the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will have to carry out during the election period.

Resolution No. 9732 issued by the poll body last July 3 assigns AFP the duty of providing security, and deploying troops as needed, during the deployment of election paraphernalia, on top of assessing the peace and order situation. PNP will carry out the same tasks.

A minimum of two personnel will be assigned to each barangay.

“All the assets of the AFP will be utilized as needed to address certain situations. Our assets will be readily available during the barangay elections,” said spokesperson Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan.

Another way to avoid incidents during the election period is for candidates to enter into peace covenants with the Comelec, PNP and AFP, officials said, adding that this was effective in the May elections.

“Because of the peace covenant, there were zero incidents reported” in Munai, Lanao del Norte, said Tutaan.

Earlier this week, over 500 candidates in Tawi Tawi, most of them blood-related, signed a peace covenant in the capital, Bongao. The candidates staged a four-kilometer unity walk with their supporters after the covenant signing.

According to Sindac, more attention is being given and operations sustained in areas where election related incidents have been previously recorded.

Earlier, the PNP spokesman identified identified 6,195 villages as election hotspots or “areas of concern” based on cases of election violence and political rivalry, the existence of private armed groups and the proliferation of firearms, among others. He said the hotspots make up 14.74 percent of the total 42,038 barangays in the country.

Asked to compare the coming polls with the May political exercise, Sindac said it is not easy to draw comparisons, but acknowledged that since Monday’s elections are not automated, election officials will be more vulnerable to harassment.

Despite the large number of barangays, Sindac said the coming election “is just manageable kasi… yung pwersang mataas, pwede tutukan yung mga nasa baba (Larger political units can monitor the smaller ones).”

“Barangay lang yung binabantayan mo, kaya pwede siyang bantayan ng city, provincial at regional (You only have to have the barangays monitored by the city, provincial and regional levels),” he said. Policing the polls would also end faster because the barangay election results tend to be counted quickly, he added.

On the flip side, teachers will be getting less pay compared to the May election, despite having to count the ballots manually.

“It is a little more difficult, probably because they’ll be doing the counting themselves,” Jimenez said. “But it will be a shorter term of service,” hence the lower compensation. (Vince Nonato/VERA Files)