Security situation in 3 ARMM provinces monitored

By John Unson, The Philippine Star

Posted at Dec 15 2012 09:08 AM | Updated as of Dec 15 2012 05:21 PM

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Police have started monitoring extensively the security situation in three of the five provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) where hostilities could possibly erupt in next year’s elections.

The three ARMM component areas, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan, are among the 15 provinces listed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government as “priority provinces” based on the reported existence of private armies and loose firearms and their having the most cases of election-related violence during the 2007 and 2010 polls.

The ARMM also covers the island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the cities of Lamitan and Marawi. Lamitan is the seat of the provincial government of Basilan, while Marawi is located in Lanao del Sur.

Chief Superintendent Mario Avenido, ARMM police director, said police authorities in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan are now formulating security plans on how to effectively help the Commission on Elections (Comelec) administer safe and fair elections in their respective areas.

Avenido said they will tap the support of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, local Christian and Muslim religious communities, peace advocacy groups and civil society organizations in brokering election peace covenants among feuding Moro clans that are pitting candidates for various local positions.

“Helping administer SAFE (safe and fair elections) is an initiative that should involve all sectors. We cannot leave everything to the Comelec, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Avenido said.

Avenido, however, said he is confident that next year’s local elections in the ARMM will be peaceful as politicians are willing to sign peace covenants that will bind them to abide by the Omnibus Election Code.

The ARMM police, with the help of local officials government units and the regional local government department, has settled more than 20 clan wars or “rido” in the past 12 months.

The autonomous region was earlier set to hold its eighth regional elections on Aug. 8, 2011, but the exercise was synchronized with the 2013 midterm elections under Republic Act 10153, which also authorized President Aquino to appoint officers-in-charge.

Lawyer Udtog Tago, Maguindanao provincial election director, said he is optimistic that the delisting of 127,121 underage and multiple registrants from the province’s book of voters will ease political tension.

Only 440,332 voters remain in Maguindanao’s voters’ list as a result of the purge.