49 COMELEC ‘hottest spots’ bared

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — POLL officials and police have identified 49 election hot spots where violence is likely to break out due to intense political rivalry, with Bicol and the Ilocos topping the list.

The Commission on Elections and the National Police also released a list of 564 cities and towns that need monitoring as the May elections draw near.

Police added they did not know yet how many of the 93 private armies on record still existed and might be used to influence the elections.

The Bicol region accounted for eight of the hot spots, while the two Ilocos provinces had five each. Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, Mimaropa and Zamboanga had four each, while the Cordilleras and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao had three each.

Central Luzon, Central Visayas, Southern Mindanao, and the Caraga region had two each, while Western Visayas and Central Mindanao had one each.

Antonio Billones, deputy chief of operations of the National Police, said the list of hot spots was based on previous elections and would change as candidates entered the race.

“We have records of hot spots but we can only finalize the list when all candidates have filed [their certificates of candidacy],” Billones said. “That’s a factor. We will only know the situation in a municipality if we know who the candidates are.”

Education officials, meanwhile, said the Comelec had deputized close to half a million public school teachers for poll duty on May 14.

The Department of Education has asked the Comelec to pay the teachers P1,500 per day of poll duty and set aside P25 million for their insurance and P5 million for legal services.

Deputized teachers will serve as members of the boards of election inspectors.

Also yesterday, the National Telecommunications Commission asked the Comelec for guidelines on political text messages during the campaign period.

“We want to make sure that the use of SMS [short messaging service] as a campaign tool will be in compliance with the Fair Elections Act,” said Lucio Espinoza Jr., chief-of-staff at the commission.

Top Comelec and Armed Forces officials are expected to meet with police today to work out security arrangements for the May polls.

The meeting, which will be led by National Police Chief Oscar Calderon and Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, will discuss election hotspots, exemptions to the gun ban, and other poll-related matters.

The Comelec has so far approved 3,500 of 18,941 applications for gun ban exemptions, said George Nanaois, executive assistant for firearms and security personnel at the poll body.

The Comelec imposed a gun ban nationwide starting Jan. 14, the start of the campaign period. It will last until June 13.