Comelec braces for poll violence

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE 2010 automated elections would not be easy a test for democracy, considering the history of election-related violence in the country.

“This election is no joke,” Commission on Elections Chairman Jose Melo told reporters during a briefing at Camp Crame after a command conference with the police and military joint chiefs-of-staff.

“Our democracy practically rests on this particular election,” Melo said. “There should be no doubt in the minds of the voters on the results of the May polls, or else it would be difficult for credibility to withstand the test and recover from it.”

Making the gun ban policy work is crucial to peaceful and orderly elections, the Comelec chief said. The ban seems, “for the first time,” for real. “No exemptions.” Those who were asking for exemptions were “big people, big shots. We had to turn them down.”

La Union, Abra, Nueva Ecija, Central Luzon, and some places in Bicol are areas of immediate concern, he said.

The campaign period for local elections is 11 weeks away, yet four Nacionalista Party candidates for local positions have already been killed.

With the “rising body count,” Senator Manuel Villar, NP president and standard-bearer, asked law enforcement agencies to protect the candidates and stem the tide of poll-related violence.

“The authorities should act early. While the climate is heating up, so is the election. If the killings continue, this means the campaign against private armies is not effective. It’s all press release,” he said.

On Tuesday, retired police officer Julio Esquivias, the NP candidate in Casiguran, Sorsogon, was shot 10 times by a motorcycle-riding gunman, witnesses said.

Killed last week by suspected assassins were Cipriano Albores, former councilman of Kinangan, Malita, Davao del Sur, and an organizer of the Manny Villar for President Movement in the province; barangay captain Wigbert Origines, president of the Association of Barangay Captains and candidate for vice mayor in Taganaan, Surigao del Norte; and barangay chairman Joen Canete, the party’s bet for councilor in Dingras, Ilocos Norte.

“Because they can’t be beaten fair and square, they were beaten in a manner most foul. There is no other explanation for their tragic fate other than this: They were killed because they were winning,” Villar said.

“That is the tragic story of our so-called democracy: Those who have no chances of winning through ballots are resorting to bullets.”

National Police Chief Jesus Verzosa said in a report one of the biggest problems in the elections was the private militia of politicians.

“The existing and validated partisan armed groups are 43 outside of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. In ARMM alone there are 25 validated groups. So that’s a total of 68. Still for validation on our watch list are 102,” he said.

There are 440 election hot spots outside ARMM and 118 for ARMM, or 558 cities and municipalities, according to him.

“The main consideration in the watch list is election-related violent incidents. However, there are other parameters, one of which is the presence of intense political rivalry,” Verzosa said. The police would focus on places with intense rivalry between political dynasties, he said.

Candidates who keep partisan armed groups involved in violence could be disqualified, Melo said.

The role of soldiers would depend on the Comelec’s dictates, military chief Gen. Victor Ibrado said. “Our mandate in close coordination with the police is the dismantling of private armed groups.”