PEACE COVENANT. A candidate signs the covenant board supporting the conduct of an honest, orderly and peaceful election in Abra during an event on Monday at Camp Villamor in Bangued, Abra. The event marks the first engagement of almost all politicians, together with the different stakeholders, including the police and the military. (Photo by Christian Allister Tubadeza/PIA-Abra)
BANGUED, Abra--- The newly-installed director of the Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCOR) has appealed to the electorate to help remove the stigma that the province is a "scary" place during the election season.
"I am here and I am appealing to our political leadership, we have also invited the clergy, academe, non-government organization and other stakeholders so that we can start the campaign without doing drastic acts like bringing in additional troops [to manage Abra's peace and order situation]," Police Brig. Gen. Israel Ephraim Dickson told candidates during the covenant signing on Monday.
The PROCOR has initiated the covenant signing for the first time, inviting candidates running in various positions for the provincial and municipal government in one venue.
Dickson, a native of San Juan town, expressed high hopes that the time will come when Abra will not be tagged as a problematic place.
"Yun nga po ang pakiusap ko sa mga kapulisan, tulungan ako na maibalik sana ang image ng Abra na peaceful at hindi yung naka attach at naka-akibat parati yung sinasabing magulong lugar (That is what I am appealing to the police, help me bring back Abra's image as a peaceful place and remove the stigma that there is unrest)," Dickson said.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on March 20 declared Abra province as an election hotspot, further placing it under the red category.
He said in an area declared as election hot spot, the deployment of additional law enforcers - as well as their transfers can be done, which he does not want to do to Abra.
“Taga rito po ako, kabisado ko yung lugar, yung political leadership. Ako po ay nananawagan sa lahat, sa contending parties na sana ay magkaisa para sa mailinis, maayos at hindi magulong election (I am from this place. I know the place well, its political leadership. I am calling on all the contending parties to be united and cooperate for the peaceful orderly conduct of election)," he said.
Basis of declaration
Dickson said the Comelec issued the order on the following basis: there is a history or current intense political rivalry; it was previously declared under Comelec control; the violence may be facilitated by the private armed groups; and there is a serious threat of New People's Army (NPA).
“Being placed as an election hotspot does not mean Abra is messy but it has a potential that is why it was declared as such, to avoid the escalation of tension and violence and election related incidents,” Dickson said.
Provincial Election Officer lawyer Dexter Barry Cawis said it was only in 2013 when Abra was not declared as an area of concern or election hotspot by the Comelec, and was consistently declared as such.
Abra as an election hotspot
Dickson said the “code red” is to make all stakeholders aware of their function and come up with measures to avoid having another incident that will prompt the Comelec to declare Abra under “Comelec Control”.
Newly-assigned Bangued municipal election officer lawyer John Paul Martin, in a separate interview, clarified that the idea that Abra is problematic because it was declared as an election hotspot is a misconception.
“Instead of being in fear, the people should feel more secured, their rights protected because the government’s action will be towards their protection. The police and the military will focus more on protecting the citizens and the teachers who will perform their election duties, not on protecting the candidates,” he said.
He pointed out that in the hierarchy of declaring a hotspot, the red category is the next step to declare an area under Comelec control, where deployment and transfers can easily be done by the Commission.
National line agencies involved in the election can also be directly ordered by the Comelec to do or not to do an action or program.
Objection to declaration
In an interview, Governor Jocelyn Bernos opposed the declaration of Abra as an election hotspot.
“From day one of my administration, we have been exerting effort, putting in resources to programs, projects and activities to make Abra peaceful. Tourists now come to Abra,” she said.
"Does this mean we have not done anything? Are the efforts of the police and the military not enough?” she said.
Abra lone district Rep. Joseph Santo Nino “JB” Bernos, meanwhile, said statistics on election-related violence show there are no election-related killing in the recent time.
"I am sure the people of Abra have seen this,” he said. (PNA)