November 30, 2023

■  Ofelia C. Empian 

With reports of the withdrawal of teachers as members of the electoral board in Abra, the Department of Education-Cordillera has asked the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to make the safety of teachers a priority.

DepEd-CAR Director Estela Cariño, during the Regional Joint Security Command Conference (RSCC) on Oct. 23 for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE), said the teachers need an assurance from the government for their safety, such as the need to be escorted from their homes to the schools during the polls.   

“I really cannot force them if they decide to withdraw even if the election is near. But of course, as the regional director and as a partner agency entrusted with this endeavor, I would hope that they would consider not really withdrawing, because they were trained for this,” Cariño said.

Abra Provincial Election Officer Mae Richelle Belmes said 58 teachers have opted to withdraw from the BSKE.

To replace the 58 teachers, Comelec trained 94 special electoral boards from the PNP – three of them were recalled by the Abra PPO to serve at Camp Villamor.

At present, Comelec has 33 reserve special electoral boards for the BSKE.

As for the withdrawal of candidates from the race, Belmes reported these were all done voluntarily, although there are unofficial reports that the withdrawal were due to force and intimidation.

Comelec-Abra reported the 254 candidates who have withdrawn their certificates of candidacy were either disqualified or who cited pressure from rivals. 

“Nobody signed any affidavits against any particular handlers that have caused their possible withdrawal,” Belmes said. 

The ongoing tension in Abra was due to the presence of dominant clans as handlers of political clans, the latter supplying money and goons to them.

Last week, the Abra Joint Security Command Conference approved Resolution 1 that increased the number of barangays under yellow category from 13 to 40, and placed eight barangays under orange.

Comelec-Cordillera Director Julius Torres said the situation in Abra does not reflect the situation in the whole region.

Torres said through the years, elections in Abra were successfully conducted through the multi-sectoral and agency approach.

He said earlier election-related violence are isolated cases.

“We have confidence in the PNP and AFP that they will be able to protect and dispense their duties well,” Torres said. 

The RJSCC has adopted the resolution of Abra to raise the areas of concern with 40 barangay in yellow category, which are all barangays in Abra except for Barangay Mabongtot in Lubuagan, Kalinga, and eight barangays in Bucay to orange category.

Policemen will replace the teachers from three precincts who have withdrawn from poll duties in Mabongtot due to an ongoing conflict among ethnic group members.

Col. Ferdinand Melchor dela Cruz of the AFP said the withdrawal of BSKE candidates and switching of political alliances “does not only involve threats but perception of safety and money.”  

Dela Cruz cited the historical root of the political division in Abra, which emanated from the falling out of political clans of the Valeras and Bernoses, which were former allies. 

He said despite the situation, they continue to have an engagement with both sides, specifically to the areas with security concerns.

Earlier in Bucay, Abra, a shootout between members of a suspected private armed group and policemen resulted in the death of one suspect on Oct. 9. On Oct. 17, a barangay kagawad candidate was gunned down by a riding-in-tandem while the next day, the wife of a barangay captain aspirant in Abang in Bucay was abducted in Parañaque City. – Ofelia C. Empian