ELECTION HOTSPOT. Police have been deployed in checkpoints in Abra a day after the Commission on Elections declared the province as an election hotspot. (PNA photo by Liza T. Agoot)
BANGUED, Abra — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc on Tuesday declared the whole province of Abra as an election hotspot, placing it under its full control.
“The Comelec en banc declared the whole province as a hotspot under category red, as carried by Resolution 105-10," assistant director of Comelec-Cordillera, lawyer Vanessa Roncal, said Tuesday evening.
Roncal was the concurrent election officer of Abra, who was ordered relieved from the province last week.
She said they received a copy of the resolution on the same day it was issued.
Roncal said "category red" is the highest in the hierarchy of the declaration of an area as a hotspot.
She said under a red category, the Comelec may order the augmentation of the police and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the area based on the need or the perceived need of the Comelec official assigned to oversee the place.
During the election period, which began February 13 and will last until June 12, transfer of officials, appointment of personnel, and possession of any firearm outside the residence are prohibited, subject to permit the commission may issue.
However, an area declared as an election hotspot is exempted from such ruling, particularly on the movement of personnel, to assure the safety of the residents.
Roncal also said the commission may reshuffle the police force in the area to assure protection for all.
With the province having been declared an election hotspot, she said the resolution warrants the motu proprio (on its own) declaration of places within the province under Comelec control.
An area is declared a hotspot after a recommendation from law enforcement agencies based on historical mark in previous elections, peace and order concerns, and violations of the election law.
Information from reliable sources, who declined to be named, indicated that vote-buying has begun in Abra, even though the campaign period has yet to start.
On March 5, President Rodrigo R. Duterte visited Bangued town for the campaign rally of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino - Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
Lawyer John Paul Martin, who was designated as election officer of Bangued on the same day as the declaration, said in a separate interview that the Comelec now has control over the province.
"I will convene all stakeholders next week to explain the resolution declaring Abra as (a) hotspot. That is what we will do to make the public understand the implication of the declaration,” he said.
Martin has been designated as Bangued election officer and lawyer Dexter Cawis as Abra provincial election officer, replacing Roncal who had been with Abra for several years.
The declaration of Abra as an election hotspot came as a surprise to Abre˜ños, considering that the province had, in the past two national elections, not been declared as a hotspot, but merely an area of concern.
Former Peñarrubia town mayor Antonio Domes-ag, in an interview on Wednesday morning, said that with the Comelec order, there is an "aura of neutrality" in Abra, which will be good for everyone in the province.
"It is good because the perceived hot-headedness of people may be controlled and the perception of biases will be lessened, if not removed,” he said.
He also said "the neutrality will lead to a good atmosphere in Abra."
"The whole province will be taken care of and monitored," Domes-ag said. (PNA)