By Jennifer Rendon
Last month, the Philippine National Police identified 546 towns and cities in the country as election watchlist areas of concerns (EWAs) or the so-called “hotspots.”
The number is around 43 percent lower from the 946 areas tagged in the 2019 elections.
Most of the 488 towns and 58 cities are in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao while others were in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Bicol and Western Visayas.
And how many areas are in Western Visayas based on the data submitted by the Police Regional Office (PRO)-6?
The PRO-6 on Wednesday opted to temporarily withhold the number, pending an approved resolution by the Regional Security Control Center (RJSCC).
Lieutenant Colonel Arnel Solis, PRO-6 spokesperson, said that the RJSCC would convene soon and would come up with a resolution to recommend areas that would be classified as EWAs.
“What we submitted was a working data that would be initially used in preparation for the May 2022 elections,” Solis said.
Since the RJSCC would still come up with the number, Brigadier General Flynn Dongbo, Western Visayas police chief, opted to temporarily withhold the data on EWAs.
Solis said the data they submitted would be mainly used for deployment purposes.
“It’s for the PNP to ascertain which areas we would beef up during the election period,” he said.
the PNP used the parameters set during the 2019 elections to determine the EWAs.
While the PRO-6 has refused to divulge any number, the Iloilo Police Provincial Office (IPPO) has identified at least one area on the list.
Colonel Adrian Acollador, Iloilo police chief, said Calinog town is on the EWAs roll. He cited the presence of communist terrorist group (CTG) as reason behind the inclusion.
Acollador explained that it was the PRO-6, through the Regional Intelligence Division (RID), that helps determine the areas that would be recommended for inclusion in the EWAs.
During the 2019 national elections, PRO-6 initially recorded 43 towns and cities as election areas of concerns.
The following is the breakdown of classifications:
Yellow (Areas of Concern) – 16
Orange (Immediate Concern) – 23
Red (Grave Concern) – 4
Areas in category Green do not have security concern or are considered relatively peaceful.
Of the 133 towns and cities, 90 are in the Green category.
Under the guidelines, towns or cities shall be placed under the Category 1 or Yellow classification if the following factors are present:
- History of/or current intense political rivalry (IPR) among the contending parties. Such rivalries could motivate people to engage in violent acts.
- Presence of private armed groups or PAGs (active/potential) that had been and/or can be utilized by candidates in the area and abetted by loose firearms and availability of gun-for-hire gangs.
- Occurrence of validated election related incident (ERI) in the 2016 national and local elections, provided there was no participation of domestic terror groups.
- Suspected politically motivated violent incidents involving elected government officials (EGO)/aspirants/supporters from January 2018 to present and those who filed their COCs until the start of the election period.
- Occurrence of political-motivated ERIs in the current election period provided there is no participation of domestic terror group.
- Validated reports of candidates involved in illegal drug groups and such support will likely lead to election violence; and/or
- Areas that have been previously declared under COMELEC Control in the last election
Towns or cities will be placed under Category 2, or election areas of immediate concern, for the following factors:
- Combination of two or more factors under Category 1.
- Presence and/or serious armed threat posed by the communist terrorist group (New People’s Army) and/or local terrorist groups (BIFF, ASG, AKP and rogue elements of the MNLF/MILF) and/or other analogous groups;
- Reports of the collection of permit to win/permit to campaign by CTGs and/or extortion by LTGs and/or other analogous groups; and/or
- Reports on the existence of CTG/LTG supported candidates.
A town or city will be considered under Red area upon existence of factors under Category 1 and 2.
In 2019, three towns were in Red Category until another was belatedly added.
Moises Padilla town in Negros Occidental was included in the Red list after suspected New People’s Army members killed Sangguniang Bayan member Jolomar Hilario.
Other towns that were previously placed on the Red category were Lemery, Calinog, and Maasin, all in Iloilo province.
In 2019, towns placed in the Orange category were Culasi, Hamtic, Sebaste, Sibalom, Valderama, and San Remigio in Antique province; Tapaz, Maayon, and Cuartero in Capiz; San Joaquin, Miag-ao, Tubungan, Igbaras, Alimodian, Janiuay, Lambunao, Leon, and Bingawan in Iloilo; and Toboso, Himamaylan, Isabela, Hinobaan, and Kabankalan City in Negros Occidental.
Under the Yellow category were the towns of New Lucena, Sara, San Dionisio, and Estancia in Iloilo; and Calatrava, Don Salvador Benedicto, Escalante, EB Magalona, Silay City, Cagayan, Binalbagan, Hinigaran, La Castellana, Candoni, Ilog, and Sipalag City in Negros Occidental.