Teachers in Mindanao ‘hotspots’ remain committed to poll duties

By Merlina Hernando-Malipot

Despite reported “hotspots” in Mindanao and other areas, the Department of Education (DepEd) said that it has not received any reports of teachers who intend to refuse poll duties in the upcoming midterm elections in May.

DepEd Undersecretary and Spokesperson Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan, in an interview, said that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has not yet reached out to the department regarding concerns on election manpower. “I think, to the extent that COMELEC hasn’t approached us to talk about a crisis situation, then we feel that it’s still in order,” he said.

DepEd Undersecretary and Chief of Staff Nepomuceno Malaluan (DepEd / MANILA BULLETIN)
DepEd Undersecretary and Spokesperson Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan (PNA / MANILA BULLETIN)

Malaluan noted that DepEd and the COMELEC have not really “really discussed what are the measures to be taken as precautionary measures” on areas that are declared as election hotspots. “It is a very generalized statement of a ‘hotspot’ but I guess the local situation will still be important” he said.

Even in non-hotspot areas, Malaluan noted that there are possible election-related incidents. “But you can always be sure that the teachers have been there and done that in the longest time that we’ve been involved as a support institution for the conduct of the elections,” he added.

Meanwhile, Malaluan reiterated that teachers can refuse poll duties. “It has been institutionalized that serving in the elections need to be with the consent of the teachers and there’s a mechanism of who are the replacement prioritization down the line,” he said. Under Republic Act 01756 or Election Service Act (ESRA) serving in the elections is voluntary work. “The first one that will flag a major problem in relation to the availability of election officers for the conduct of elections will be the COMELEC not really DepEd,” he added.

As per Comelec, more than 200,000 teachers are needed to assist in the May 13 elections. Earlier, the Comelec has declared the entire Mindanao as election hotspot due to threats of armed and terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) raises concern over the declaration of 941 areas or 57.60 per cent of the total 1,634 cities and municipalities in the country as election hotspots noting that it “paints a disturbing military control scenario of the coming 2019 elections as thousands of police and military troops are expected to be deployed in the classified areas.”

“We are worried that this is another of the Duterte regime’s attempt to condition the public into accepting intensified military hold in the country, which has grown out of hand as they intend to subject even the very exercise of people’s democratic rights under military rule,” said ACT National Chairperson Joselyn Martinez.

Martinez added that the Duterte administration “might be outdoing itself this time as it launches another, more brazen attack against democracy.” She further said that “this is part and parcel of the increasingly fascist and tyrannical measures used by the state to silence dissent and stifle democracy, which has caused immense unrest among the people.”

“The scale of electoral threat and danger the state presupposes indicates the magnitude of the divide and disorder our country has been put into due to Duterte’s war policies,” Martinez said. The group also argued that “such cannot be used to justify the ‘militarization of elections’ and called on the government not to exploit the historically precarious situation during this time to forward their martial law agenda.”

“Heightened presence and intervention of police and military forces may cause distress among voters and discourage them from participating in the elections,” Martinez said. “After all, these are notorious human rights violators who have been known to use intimidation and brute force against legitimate exercises of democratic rights,” she added.

Martinez said that teachers play a “crucial role” in the election as vanguards. “Teachers pledge to resist any attempt to compromise civilian supremacy in the conduct of the coming midterm polls,” she said. Thus, ACT is “one with the people in calling for a clean, honest, and peaceful election.”