By Martin Sadongdong
Police General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, visited Camp Major Bado Dangwa in La Trinidad, Benguet on Friday to personally oversee the readiness of the Cordillera Police Regional Office (PRO-COR) for the upcoming midterm elections.
On the first day of the campaign period for local candidates, Albayalde met with top officials of the PRO-COR led by Police Brigadier Gen. Israel Ephraim Dickson, regional director, to supervise the preparations of the regional police in the May 13 polls.
According to Dickson, a total of 38 areas in the Cordillera Administration Region (CAR) are considered as election hotspots.
Of the number, 28 are placed under the “Orange” category or those considered as areas of immediate concern while 10 are under the “Red” category or those areas of grave concern.
Most notable is the province of Abra the entire 27 municipalities of which have been placed under the Red category by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). The other area placed in the same category is the Lubuagan town in Kalinga province.
‘Better days coming’
According to Albayalde, Abra has been a “perennial problem” in the previous elections.
“Ang concern nating isa is Abra dahil medyo mainit ang mga opposing parties doon and there are allegations of PAGs [private armed groups] sa area na ‘yon. Ito siguro ang reason bakit ang Comelec ginawa na under Red category itong buong province of Abra (One of our concerns is Abra because of the intense political rivalry and there are allegations of the use of private armed groups in that area. This is probably the reason why the Comelec placed the entire Abra under the Red category),” Albayalde said.
Prior to his visit in Camp Bado Dangwa, Albayalde also made inspections in Abra, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte on Thursday.
“Pinagmeet natin ang mga opposing parties kahapon sa Abra and they promised to cooperate with us. Hopefully, sabi ko nga we will have zero incident sa province na ‘yan and that will be a good start (We set up a meeting with the opposing parties in Abra yesterday [Thursday] and they promised to cooperate with us. Hopefully, like what I have said we will have zero incident in that province and that will be a good start),” Albayalde stated.
“Probably sa next election sa 2022 hindi na mailagay sa hotspot ang Abra kung makita talaga ng Comelec at taumbayan na hindi na kailangan talagang bantayan (Probably in the 2022 elections, Abra will no longer be considered a hotspot if the Comelec and public really see that it no longer needs to be monitored),” he added.
When an area is placed under the Red category, it means that there is a history of election related violence or existence of partisan political rivalry; serious threats posed by domestic terror groups and the likes including PAGs, communist rebels, and/or terrorists; and relevant government agencies may declare it to be placed under Comelec control.
Data from the PRO-COR showed that in 2004 presidential elections, 34 persons became victims of election-related violence in the entire Cordillera.
This further grew to 41 casualties in the 2007 elections.
Authorities started noting a downward trend since then after only one injured civilian was recorded in the 2010 polls.
In 2013, two Philippine Army soldiers were killed while 10 others were wounded in election-related violence while in 2016, one civilian was killed and five others were injured.
Furthermore, the regional police said at least two private armed groups with 17 members are being monitored by intelligence operatives in Cordillera.
Data from the PRO-COR showed that seven of those alleged PAG members already surrendered to the police from January to March 27, 2019. Ten others remain free and are now the subject of police operations.
However, Albayalde expressed hopes that the upcoming elections will be more peaceful in the Cordillera with the surplus of troops in the region.
According to its own data, PRO-COR has a total strength of 6,431 troops. A total of 2,738 personnel will be deployed in 1,369 polling centers on the election day.
Meanwhile, the remaining troops will serve as members of quick reaction teams, reactionary standby support force, and red teams and headquarters skeletal force.
The PNP Chief then reiterated his reminder to the police to just do their jobs and be neutral.
“Paulit-ulit ang reminders natin sa ating kapulisan to not engage in partisan politics and remain apolitical. Napakaimportante n’yan (We always tell our policemen not to engage in partisan politics and remain apolitical. That is very important),” Albayalde said.
Other than that, Albayalde declared that the PNP is already prepared for the midterm elections.
“Nakita naman natin even before na pag-umpisa pa lang ng election period nakaprepare na ang PNP (Even before the start of the election period, the PNP is already prepared),” he said.
“Ito kasing pagprovide ng security during election and what to do and what not to do ay parang second nature na sa PNP ‘yan dahil sa dami ng election na pinagdaanan natin (Providing security during election and what to do and not to do must have become second nature for the PNP because of the numerous elections that we have experienced),” he concluded.