February 28, 2024

■  Ofelia C. Empian 

A total of 250 aspirants for elective positions in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in Abra have withdrawn their certificates of candidacy.

Based on the Oct. 18 record of the Commission on Elections-Cordillera, the highest number of those who filed for withdrawal of their COCs came from Bangued with 49, followed by Licuan Baay with 40, Bucay with 17, and Lagangilang with 16.

The total number of withdrawals for punong barangay are 48 and 88 for barangay kagawad, 24 for SK chairman, and 90 for SK kagawad.

Earlier, Comelec-Abra officer Mae Richelle Belmes said she requested the Abra Police Provincial Office for manpower augmentation because of incidents of intimidation, vote buying, and withdrawal of teachers from poll duties.

The teachers begged off from serving in the 2023 BSKE after raising concerns over their safety following a shoot-out between members of a suspected private armed group and policemen in Bucay on Oct. 9, where an armed civilian was killed.

On Oct. 17, Catalino Turalba, Sr., a candidate for barangay kagawad in Palaguio, Bucay was gunned down by unidentified riding in tandem suspects.

The next day, another election-related violence happened with the abduction of Bliss Loy, a teacher and wife of Benjamin, an aspirant for PB in Abang, Bucay.

Loy was forcibly taken while on her way to school in Parañaque by armed men on Oct. 18. The armed men called her husband, stating that he should withdraw from the elections. 

The victim was later released by her captors and was left at Nagcarlan, Laguna where the police found her. The Loy family is currently seeking help from the police for their security and safety.

In a statement, Abra Gov. Dominic Valera said they condemn the acts committed by civilian groups armed with high-powered firearms. He said Abra previously enjoyed the last two conflict-free elections.

Valera also called upon the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies to aid the province in suppressing all threats against the public to attain credible elections.

Police Regional Office-Cordillera Director B/Gen. David Peredo, Jr. said security measures are in place to ease tension in the province.

Peredo said though there were recommendations to update Abra’s yellow code to orange code due to the recent violence in the area, he said the situation is still manageable.

An additional 100 personnel will be deployed for the augmentation of the police force in the province next week.

Under a color-coding scheme, code green would mean generally peaceful and orderly and no cause for concern; and yellow if the area has a history of election-related incidents in the last polls and had been previously declared under the control of the Comelec.

Code orange means areas of immediate concern where there is a serious armed threat.

Places under the red category are on the watchlist and need to be carefully monitored because there is a threat.

Cordillera currently has 14 barangays that are considered areas of concern, 13 of which are in Abra and one in Kalinga.