Cops to escort Abra teachers as political tension grips province | Inquirer News

Cops to escort Abra teachers as political tension grips province

107 tutors have so far backed out or may decline poll duties due to coercion or harassment, says DepEd exec
/ 05:20 AM October 25, 2023

Cops to escort Abra teachersas political tension grips province

AUGMENTATION FORCES | Personnel of Abra Police Provincial Office, the Philippine Army and the Department of Education in Abra gather in this photo taken inside Camp Col. Juan Villamor in Barangay Calaba, Bangued, on Monday during the sendoff of government forces who will secure the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in the province on Oct. 30. (Photo from the Cordillera Police Regional Office)

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — The Cordillera police are set to escort all Abra teachers tasked with handling poll duties in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections on Oct. 30 due to mounting reports of intimidation in a province that was notorious for political violence because of warring private armed groups.

During a meeting of the Cordillera Regional Joint Security Control Center (RJSCC) on Monday, Abra Elections Supervisor Mae Richelle Belmes said some of the teachers who would be counting the votes have reported instances of coercion and 30 of them have resigned from their respective boards of election inspectors (BEIs).


Belmes said that influential Abra families have become “handlers” who supply candidates with campaign money or guns when needed and are behind the political tensions gripping Abra.


A politician in the province recently ordered teachers to attend a meeting that was organized at the start of this week and warned that those who refused would be forced to resign from their BEIs, Belmes informed the RJSCC. The number of Abra candidates who withdrew from this year’s village race has risen from 122 to 254, many of whom complained about the extensive arm twisting, she said.

Belmes said 49 of them were running for “punong barangay” (village chair), 92 for a seat in “sangguniang barangay” (village council), 24 for the SK chair, and 90 for the SK council.

None of them formalized their complaints, and some of the SK candidates who withdrew were actually facing disqualification proceedings, she said.

The alleged abductions of incumbent village chairs in Bangued town on Oct. 12 and the Oct. 18 kidnapping of the wife of an alleged candidate who was later released were in the tally of election-related incidents recorded by the Philippine Army, said Col. Ferdinand dela Cruz, commander of the 501st Infantry Brigade based in Cagayan province, during the meeting.

Danger is real

Estrella Cariño, Cordillera director of the Department of Education (DepEd), sought and was granted police escorts for all teachers in Abra by Gen. David Peredo Jr., the region’s police director, during the RJSCC meeting.

Cariño said she was assured by Peredo that police security details would fetch and bring the teachers home during the polls.


As many as 107 teachers have either backed out or have indicated they may pull out of election duties, according to Cariño. The danger and anguish faced by Abra teachers are real, she said, citing DepEd employees who “cried to me over the telephone” while serving in the 2022 national and local polls.

At that time, the town of Pilar was put under the control of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) following a checkpoint clash between the police and a security team of the vice mayor on March 29 last year.

Belmes said 58 of the 94 police officers who have been trained to handle election duties will replace the teachers who backed out. These police officers will serve as BEIs in eight voting zones that teachers have refused to serve because of political instability, and 20 other areas where the community and political parties asked for BEIs composed of policemen.

She said 33 more police officers have been placed on standby in case more teachers fail to turn up on Election Day, while the last three have been assigned to help with provincial election chores.

National impact

“The result of the barangay and SK elections will greatly affect the upcoming national elections [in 2025],” Dela Cruz pointed out, noting that although barred by law, some candidates are allegedly part of the machinery of national political parties.

The current conflicts in Abra, however, may be attributed to “two political clans that were allies in the last national elections (2022), [but] who have severed ties due to rivalries and [opposing] political interests,” Dela Cruz said.

Although the common stories circulating online referred to coercion, some of the candidates who withdrew may have been enticed by bribes, Dela Cruz said.

Also on Monday, the Cordillera RJSCC issued Resolution No. 2, increasing Abra’s election areas of concern from 13 to 48.

The RJSCC characterized 40 areas as yellow zones for their history of election-related incidents and political armies.

The more serious orange tag (for political tensions and armed threats) was given to eight barangays of Bucay town, where a candidate, aspiring Barangay Bangbangcag councilman Catalino Turalba Jr., was shot dead on Oct. 18, days after the Bucay police engaged four armed men in an Oct. 9 gunfight. One of the gunmen died while being treated at a hospital.

While under Comelec control during the election period, the RJSCC would act as a special task force with “full supervision over all national and local enforcement agencies assigned or deployed in the area.”

The task force could also impose a curfew when necessary and conduct regular and spot inspections of Comelec checkpoints.

So far, the Comelec has only placed under its complete control the province of Negros Oriental and the town of Libon in Albay due to heightened political tensions in these areas.

As of Oct. 20, Comelec said 361 barangays out of the total 42,001 barangays in the country have been categorized “red,” the highest alert for political violence before and during the Oct. 30 elections.

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Out of the 361 red-category barangays, 266 are in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, 63 in Eastern Visayas, 23 in Bicol, five in Soccsksargen, three in Western Visayas, and one in Central Luzon.

TAGS: 2023 barangay elections, Abra election violence, Abra teachers, Commission on Elections

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