12 towns in ARMM classified as ‘areas of immediate concern’

AWANG, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/26 April) – Special Boards of Election Inspectors (SBEI) will be deployed in towns of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao identified as “areas of immediate concern” come election day.

In a coordinating conference Monday, the Commission on Elections-ARMM, police and military officials comprising the Regional Joint Security Control Center (RJSCC), and representatives from the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, agreed on the move to prevent violence in election “hot spots.”

The RJSCC based its classification on the presence of private armed groups, intense political rivalry and history of violence in previous elections.

In some cases, security officials said, BEI members opted to shy away due to threats from some candidates or their supporters and for having blood relationship with the political aspirants.

Among the towns listed as “hot spots” are Tugaya, Butig, Sultan Dumalondong and Masiu in Lanao del Sur; Sultan sa Barongis, General Salipada K. Pendatun, and Datu Salibo in Maguindanao; Tipo-Tipo and Al Barka in Basilan; and Pata, Panglima Estino and Lugus in Sulu.

No areas of immediate concern were identified in Tawi-Tawi.

Comelec central office has been asked to deploy additional 200 to 300 police officers to serve as Quick Response Force or BEI members, according to Senior Supt. Antonio Gardiola Jr., PNP-ARMM deputy regional head.

During the conference, Brig. Gen. Glenn Macasero, Eastern Mindanao Command deputy commander said the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities which he heads, has agreed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the pre-coordinated presence of troops which are expected to be deployed in rebel-controlled areas.

“There is massive deployment of our troops to help secure the election thus we have coordinated with the MILF to avoid misinterpretations and mis-encounter,” said Macasero.

Lt. Col. Audie Edralin, commanding officer of 7th Infantry Battalion which covers part of Maguindanao said some armed men known to be MILF members are serving a number of candidates.

“We observe rival candidates have supporters of these armed men affiliated with the rebel group. Can we say they are now lawless and engage them without jeopardizing the peace agreement?” he asked the panel in the forum.

Lawyer Michael Abas, Comelec-ARMM regional director replied: “The rule of law must prevail. You can respond provided the procedure is in place with CCCH and file charges for violators.”

Joint-Task Force Central and 6th Infantry Division commander MGen Edmundo Pangilinan stressed that the peace agreement between the government and the MILF does not prevent the military from performing its mandate.

“Just follow the mechanism and you will not go wrong. The credibility of the security sector has a very crucial role in this democratic practice,” he said.

Pangilinan admitted that some armed men have been seen in interior villages in the borders of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

“We want to prevent these armed men from getting closer to the polling precinct on election day and disrupt the process,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, 6th ID deputy commander, said the security sector is concerned about a possible sabotage during the transport of the vote counting machines to the polling precincts.

“This is what we want to work out with our counterparts in PPCRV,” Dela Vega said.

Abas appealed to all political parties and PPCRV to take part in the inventory of the machines and ballots as soon as they arrive on May 2 to erase suspicions and have the chance to scrutinize them. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)