Lawmaker sees Palace strategy in Mindanao ‘hot spot’ tag
An opposition congressman on Wednesday assailed the declaration of Mindanao as an election hot spot and accused the government of using the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to assure the victory of administration candidates in May’s midterm elections.
“As if martial law [were] not enough, Mindanaoans are again subjected to this ignominy of [their island] being declared a hot spot for the sake of ‘gaming’ the electoral process to suit Malacañang’s interests,” Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said in a statement.
“This is a threat to our democracy [that] we should all resist,” he said.
Catholic priest Rolando Abejo of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) in Mindanao, called the Comelec declaration “unjust” and urged the people of Mindanao to oppose it.
The situation in Mindanao, he said, is not really that alarming to warrant the declaration.
“This declaration will not help Mindanao at all,” Abejo said.
The Comelec declared Mindanao an election hot spot on Tuesday, putting the entire island under its control with the help of the military and the police.
Cited as reasons for the declaration were violent incidents in Mindanao during the last two elections and threats posed by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and other armed groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
But Villarin said those threats were “not serious enough to warrant” the declaration.
“Was there a failure of barangay elections in Mindanao? Was there failure in the holding of the recent BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) plebiscite? [The answers to both of] these questions are in the negative,” he said.
Subverting electoral process
He surmised that President Rodrigo Duterte’s intent was “to dictate the outcome of the May elections.”
The administration was using the Comelec “to subvert the electoral process to [ensure] its favored candidates’ victory in the national and local elections,” Villarin said.
The lawmaker urged the Comelec to review and rescind the declaration as soon as possible.
Abejo said the people of Mindanao must oppose the declaration because it meant the tightening of the suppression and oppression of progressive groups on the island.
He acknowledged that parts of Mindanao were considered areas of concern but said the police and the military remained in control of these areas.
Most local officials in Zamboanga City and Sulu support the declaration, although Basilan Gov. Jim Salliman said he wished the measure were limited to problem areas.
Among those who welcomed the declaration were Bayog Mayor Leonardo Babasa, Zamboanga del Sur Gov. Antonio Cerilles, Panglima Estino Mayor Ben Estino in Sulu, and Sibuco Mayor Norbedeiri Edding in Zamboanga del Norte.
No guarantee against fraud
In Davao City, President Duterte’s hometown, the election watchdog Kontra Daya said placing the entire island under Comelec control was no guarantee against election fraud and violence.
“As long as the rich and powerful dominate the election system, suffrage and suffering [will] still be mentioned in the same [breath],” said the group’s Danilo Arao.
Arao noted that Mindanao has been under martial law since May 2017 following the siege of Marawi City by Islamic militants, but the Comelec has proceeded to put the island under its control.
Congress has extended martial law in Mindanao three times, the last one making it valid up to the end of 2019.
The military said on Wednesday that there would be no new activities for troops even after the declaration.
“We will just continue our current mission, that is run after armed groups in Jolo, Basilan, Central Mindanao and parts of Surigao and Davao, and ensure that the election[s] will push through peacefully,” said Col. Noel Detoyato, the military’s public affairs chief. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, JIGGER JERUSALEM, MART SAMBALUD AND JULIE ALIPALA
Click here for more elections stories.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.