By Merlina Hernando Malipot
Concerned for the safety of teachers who will perform poll duties in May, a group of teachers on Wednesday expressed alarm over the declaration of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) that the entire Mindanao is now considered an election hotspot.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), in a statement, raised alarm over the COMELEC’s declaration of Mindanao as “hotspot” for the coming midterm elections, noting that the “safety and well-being of teachers” that will perform election duties in the island could be compromised.
“It seems martial law has turned Mindanao from bad to worse as in the previous elections, only certain parts of Mindanao were identified as hotspots,” said ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio.
Basilio noted that this “category implies a greater chance of election fraud and violence to happen in the area.” Given this, he noted that “this is a very alarming development, at a time when it is clear that the Dutertes—both the president and Davao City Mayor Sara—will do anything and everything to ensure their bets’ win.”
ACT pointed out that the “two top candidates of PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago, former SAP Bong Go and former PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa, hail from Mindanao and expect Mindanao to be their major sources of votes.”
In particular, the teachers’ federation questioned the stated bases of the declaration as it was eerily akin to the widely debated grounds for martial law in the area. “The supposed threat from state-identified terrorist group has already been used to declare martial law in the region, hence the Mindanao deployment of 70 percent of the state’s military troops,” Basilio said.
“More were sent just recently, following the 3rd extension of ML [Martial Law],” he added.
Basilio also asked why the government “still claims that these areas are unsafe” and alleged that the “either the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] is not doing their jobs properly or something equally, if not more, worrisome is going on.”
Meanwhile, Basilio explained that there has been a recorded rise in gross human rights violations and serious threats to people’s democratic rights in the area since it was put under military rule. He posed the concern over COMELEC’s announcement of possibly employing greater military and police intervention in hotspot areas to control the election situation. “Mindanao is militarized enough, what good will it bring to militarize the polls?” he asked.
Given this, Basilio called on COMELEC to “exhaust all civilian options to handle the poll situation in Mindanao instead of militarizing it.”
He added that “election is the ultimate democratic practice of the citizenry and the people should have an enabling environment so as to be able to freely exercise their right to suffrage.”