MANILA (UPDATE) - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Tuesday it has placed Cotabato City and Daraga town in Albay under its control until the end of the election period.
The move came after a lawmaker was killed in Daraga in December and the New Year's Eve bombing in Cotabato City, which left at least two people dead.
The Comelec said Cotabato City was placed under its control ahead of the referendum on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the enabling measure of the peace pact between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said Cotabato City and Daraga were placed under the commission's control to ensure that the integrity of the BOL plebiscite and the midterm elections is protected.
Under the law, the Comelec can place any area under its immediate control if there is a history of or prevailing intense political rivalry among contending parties, as these could lead to violence.
Once an area is under Comelec authority, the commission is given full control and supervision of law enforcement agencies and military officers assigned to the said area.
This gives the commission the power to reshuffle or relieve police officers in a given area.
It could also recommend the replacement of any public officer or employee who violates any election law or fails to comply with instructions, orders or decisions in performing tasks related to the elections.
Last December 22, 2018, AKO Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe was shot dead during a gift-giving activity in Daraga. Police has tagged the town mayor, Carlwyn Baldo, as the mastermind behind the slay. Batocabe was supposed to challenge Baldo for the mayoralty.
In Cotabato City, meanwhile, at least two people were killed and several others were injured in the New Year's eve blast at a department store in Cotabato City.
The city is also preparing for the referendum on the Bangsamoro Organic Law. Comelec set the referendum in Mindanao on January 21 and February 6.
Speaking to ANC, Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi welcomed the poll body's move, alleging harassment of some locals ahead of the plebiscite.
"If the purpose is really to protect the will of the people, the votes of the people then that's good," she told ANC's "Beyond Politics."
"I think it would be best that it would be placed under Comelec control with more military coming in and PNP (Philippine National Police) manning the polling areas," she added.
The Philippines' election period began last Sunday, Jan. 13.
-- with a report from Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News