Entire Mindanao is “Category Red Election Hotspot”

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 19 March) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday declared the entire Mindanao as “Category Red Election Hotspot” in the run-up to the mid-term elections in May.

Mindanao, which has been placed under martial law since May 23, 2017, comprises 27 provinces, 33 cities, 422 towns and 10,084 barangays.  It has a population of 24.1 million as of 2015 and its voting population in the 2016 Presidential polls was 12.6 million, the second vote-richest island in the country (Luzon’s was 30.4 million and Visayas’ was 11.3 million)

Mindanao’s macroeconomic performance map in 2017, courtesy of the Mindanao Development Authority. Mindanao has 27 provinces and 33 cities.

MindaNews asked Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez how the decision was reached that the entire Mindanao – and that includes Davao City, the city of President Rodrigo Duterte — be classified under Category Red. As of 10 p.m., he had yet to reply.

MindaNews also asked Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal why the entire Mindanao is under Category Red. As of 10 p.m., he had yet to reply.

In its press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the Comelec said it placed “Mindanao Island Group,” Jones town in Isabela; Lope de Vega town in Northern Samar; and the entire province of Abra, under Category Red, a classification that “may warrant the motu proprio declaration of Comelec Control over the affected area, and the Comelec En Banc may direct the augmentation of personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the need arises.”

It said the Comelec, the military and police identify and classify election hotspots into four categories: Green, Yellow, Orange and Red: Green for relatively peaceful and orderly areas with no security concern; Yellow for those with a history of election-related violence or the existence of intense partisan political rivalry, but without the participation of domestic terror groups; Orange for areas where, in addition to conditions that would qualify an area as Category Yellow, there are likewise serious armed threats posed by domestic terror groups and other analogous armed groups; and Red for areas where, “while being under Category Orange, the relevant government agencies declare the existence of conditions which may constitute grounds for the declaration of Comelec Control.”

The Comelec said the declaration of Category Red “developed in the wake of suspected election-related incidents in the last two elections, together with serious armed threats” posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and rogue elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and/or Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other analogous groups.

The last electoral exercise in Mindanao was the peaceful and orderly conduct of the plebiscite on January 21 and February 6 to ratify RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Last year, Comelec Minute Resolution 18-0085 issued on January 31 allowed elections to proceed as scheduled in Mindanao despite martial law, “with the exception of Marawi City, the rehabilitation of which is ongoing.”

The Resolution also directed the election and Barangay Affairs Department to “conduct a physical/ocular/structural integrity study or assessment of the polling precincts in Marawi City and recommend whether or not to conduct election therein three months after the scheduled May 14, 2018 BSKE elections.”

The barangay election in Marawi was held on September 22 and except for a few fistfights and misunderstandings and a few arrests for vote-buying, “not a single person was killed,” Col. Romeo Brawner of the Joint Task Force Ranao, said.

He described the elections as “a big leap towards genuine democracy.”

“Rescind the blanket declaration”

In a statement, Akbayan Party List Rep Tom Villarin said Comelec should “review and rescind such blanket declaration in the soonest possible time.”

The Comelec, he said, is now being ‘weaponized’ by the Duterte administration “to subvert the electoral process to assure its favored candidates victory in the national and local elections. “

Villarin said the so-called election related incidents in the past two elections and armed threats from the NPA, BIFF and extremist groups “are not serious enough as to warrant the declaration of the entire island as a category red election hotspot. “

He recalled that the opposition had earlier warned of possible electoral manipulation when martial law was extended “even without factual basis of rebellion or invasion.”

“Now this unilateral Comelec declaration of Mindanao as a code red hotspot finally reveals the whole intent of Duterte to dictate the outcome of the May elections,” Villarin said

He found it “highly sinister and speculative to say that election-related violence has engulfed Mindanao or that peace and order has broken down as to warrant Comelec control over the entire island.”

“Was there a failure of barangay elections in Mindanao? Was there failure in the holding of the recent BARMM plebiscite? Both the answers to these questions are in the negative. Comelec should never become an unwitting tool to subvert our democracy and it does not bode well for the conduct of free and fair elections,’” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)