SAF troops deployed in 2 Lanao towns under Comelec control
MANILA, Philippines — Special Action Force (SAF) police platoons have been deployed to two towns declared under Commission on Elections (Comelec) control for the 2022 polls, Maj. Gen. Valeriano de Leon, head of the Security Task Force (STF) for the 2022 National and Local Elections, said in a briefing on Monday.
Asked if there were threats from local terrorist groups in the Bangsamoro, De Leon said in Filipino: “Yes. And I conferred with our chairman, Atty, Saidamen Pangarungan. And we might inspect those areas.”
He pointed out that only those two towns in Lanao del Sur had been declared under Comelec control.
De Leon also assured the public that security monitoring of threats was dynamic — meaning that the classification of an area of election concern may change depending on recent developments.
The Philippine National Police and Comelec have stopped using “election hotspots” as a term. They instead sorted towns into yellow, orange, and red classifications — in order of moderate concern to highest concern.
De Leon said that more areas might be put under a higher classification, given recent events that might affect the local political landscape — like in Abra province, which he and Pangarungan would also visit.
“There are recent incidents that we have to account. I don’t want to get ahead of the Comelec, but pero in our exchange of information there will be upcoming or upgrading of the classification of election areas of concern,” De Leon said.
Aside from the Bangsamoro area, De Leon said they are also setting their sights on the Bicol Region, which more areas under the red category due to possible intense political rivalries and reports of communist rebels allegedly extorting money from candidates.
“Well, the presence of misguided brothers are still dominant in Region 5 kaya nga ito ay isang parameter kung kaya’t ang isang malaking percentage na itinalagang red election areas of concern is in Region 5,” he said.
While past elections in the country have been generally peaceful, the Philippines has a long history of election-related violence.
In 2009, the single-largest killing of journalists in the world happened during election season, when a convoy of media personalities and female supporters of Maguindanao Second District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu were ambushed by armed men in 2009.
Mangudadatu was then seeking the gubernatorial seat of Maguindanao, challenging the Ampatuans’ grip on the province. Members of the Ampatuan clan including former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. were convicted in December 2019 for the incident.
As early as September 2021, there were reports of attacks believed to be have been motivated related to the elections, including a grenade-throwing incident at the ancestral home of Cagayan de Oro Second District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
No one was injured as the grenade did not explode.
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