“The police have already identified 546 election hot spots ahead of next year’s polls.”
In the two to three decades after the Second World War, it was said that you could win an election in this country only if you had the so-called 3Gs—guns, goons and gold. That is, unless you had an arsenal of high-powered firearms and a private army to intimidate your adversaries, as well as wads of cash to hand out to local leaders and voters—you had better kiss your dreams of occupying public office goodbye.
These days, however, it appears that another “G” has been added to the toxic formula: guile, in the form of computer savvy in the era of automated elections, and troll farms utilizing social media to spread falsehoods, disinformation and character assassination, among other underhanded tactics.
But the 4th G is another story we can probably talk about some other time. It’s the first two Gs we—and law enforcement agencies—are concerned about at this point, as these are potent weapons in the hands of those eager to gain access to political power, or to retain it for as long as they wish.
With the May 2022 elections less than five months away, the Philippine National Police is on the right track in monitoring the peace and order situation in various parts of the country where violence and bloodshed could erupt as a result of fierce political rivalry.
News reports now tell that the police have already identified 546 election “hot spots” ahead of next year’s polls, down from 946 in the 2019 elections.
While the figure indicates a downward trend in the number of troublesome areas compared to 2019, authorities are nonetheless leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the forthcoming political exercise would be generally peaceful.
Of the 488 towns and 58 cities tagged by the PNP as hotspots, most are part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao while others are in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Bicol and Western Visayas.
Of the 546 hot spots, only 39 out of the country’s 1,438 towns and seven out of 146 cities have been placed under the red category or considered areas of grave concern.
It would be interesting to find out if these same hot spots are where political dynasties are dominant, or on the rebound, and unwilling to give up power.
For comparison, in the 2019 polls, the “red areas” numbered 540.
Police officials did not identify the election hot spots, saying only that these were still “subject to validation” with other government instrumentalities such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard.
The task before the PNP is to maximize the deployment of policemen to the election hot spots.
Next to areas in the red category, there are also orange (areas of immediate concern) and yellow hot spots (areas of concern). Orange areas refer to those facing serious threats by private armed groups in the employ of politicians. On the other hand, yellow areas have either a history of election-related incidents in the last two elections or of intense political rivalry, or were previously placed under the control of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The country has a long history of polls marked by violence and bloodshed. During the election period between January and June 2019, there were 60 violent incidents although the figure was lower than the 133 recorded during the same months in 2016.
Among the 113 victims of poll-related violence in 2019, a total of 23 were killed, down from the 50 fatalities during the 2016 elections.
We recall that law enforcement agencies almost always describe Philippine elections as “generally peaceful.” That’s probably because saying that there was a breakdown of law and order during the polls would put them in a bad light.
Recent news reports, however, should be cause for alarm, as these bring us back to previous bloody elections.
Last month, a grenade was thrown at the ancestral home of Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez while a town councilor in Zamboanga del Norte province was killed in an ambush. A vice mayoral bet in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town also narrowly escaped a gun attack.
On Nov. 18, a municipal elections officer in Northern Samar was shot and killed by a still-unknown assailant.
Earlier this month, the PNP said that it was carefully watching six private armed groups that could pose a threat to next year’s elections and 138 others that could be activated to instigate violence.
If all this is a portent of things to come, we have ample reason to fear that the forthcoming political exercise would be bloody.
Law enforcement agencies should therefore closely monitor the situation on the ground. Apart from directing all police offices from the regional down to municipal levels to draw up specific plans to prevent private armed groups from fomenting violence due to partisan politics, Camp Crame has also directed them to strictly implement the ban on the carrying of firearms during the campaign period, like in previous elections.
Politicians and their supporters intent on committing murder and mayhem just so they can prevail over their political adversaries should think twice before putting free and fair elections—a bedrock of our democratic system—in grave peril.