Comelec to push for early polls in ARMM, poll hotspots

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 11 2009 12:06 AM | Updated as of Dec 11 2009 08:06 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The massacre of at least 57 persons in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province last November 23, is said to be the worst election-related violence in recent Philippine history.

Fearing further escalation of violence, the Commission on Election (Comelec) on Thursday said it wants to hold the elections in the province, ahead of the 2010 polls scheduled on May.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the poll body has submitted a proposal to the Senate before and last week again submitted a resolution on this issue.

The Comelec resolution said the proposed early voting aims "to conduct violence-free, honest and credible elections in the various areas of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”

A bill has been filed in the lower House by Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo which calls for earlier elections in the provinces of the ARMM which also intends to ensure peace during the electoral exercise.

Sen. Richard Gordon and Cagayan de Oro 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez have also filed bills, seeking early elections.

The poll body proposes to hold the elections in ARMM a week or a month earlier than May 10. But not just in ARMM, but also in other areas considered to be “election hotspots” including Abra, Nueva Ecija, Masbate, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Western Samar where incidents of electoral fraud and violence are high.

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that there is urgency and wisdom in passing the bill. He said the poll body wants to devote all its attention on these areas as well concentrate as its resources.

“Yes but without martial law”

Meanwhile, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) is also in favor of early polls, but on one condition -- martial law declared in most parts of Maguindanao should be over by that time.

Lawyer Howard Calleja, PPCRV legal counsel, said elections would not be free in Maguindanao with martial law still being implemented.

As debates on the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao are still heated in the ongoing joint session, the poll body said it doubts if proposals for early voting will be tackled by Congress.

The Comelec commissioners, however, vow to push for it to lessen, if not totally eliminate fraud and violence in next year's elections. Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News and ANC