MANILA, Philippines—An army of nearly 500,000 teachers will be moving before dawn Monday to open poll precincts for the nationwide barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections.
The Commission on Elections has completed up to 95 percent of its preparations and it’s all systems go for the election of 42,025 barangay chairs and 294,175 kagawad (and similar numbers of SK chairs and kagawad), Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said Saturday. The elections will be conducted the old way, meaning not electronically.
He said that in the northern areas ravaged by Super-typhoon “Juan,” preparations were 60 percent done but the Comelec still had Sunday to wrap things up. The campaign period ended Saturday.
“All systems are glowing green...We’re pretty optimistic we can pull this off,” Jimenez told reporters.
He added: “The expectation is we should be at 90-95 percent now. The shipments [of election materials] continue. The only problem we have is in the North, and right now our officials are on storm watch.”
“There is an incoming weather system and while it is not expected to make landfall, it will bring rains. So we want to make sure all the supplies are taken care of.”
The military went on red alert Friday midnight in the course of heightening security preparations for Monday’s elections.
At a press briefing, Lieutenant General Reynaldo Mapagu, the Armed Forces vice chief of staff, said the red alert status—meaning all military personnel will be at their posts at all times—was part of the second phase of the AFP’s preparations for the elections.
“The AFP endeavors to maintain peace and security in the country all throughout the election period, and aside from the mandated election duties, will continue to address existing threats to prevent [the disruption] of peaceful elections,” Mapagu said.
North and South
Up to 50,259,571 voters are eligible to vote in the barangay elections, and 52,720,603 for the SK elections, in 163,484 clustered or grouped precincts nationwide, Jimenez said.
He said the Comelec was closely watching the typhoon-ravaged North as well as certain areas in the South where violence could erupt.
“There are many places [in northern Luzon] that still do not have power or are still isolated. Our evaluation of the situation on the ground continues, so we can’t say for certain that there won’t be more places where the elections are suspended,” Jimenez said.
“And it’s just not the North. Recent developments in the South have put us on alert also. Violence might play a role and there might be failure of elections declared if these [violent incidents] affect voter turnout,” he said.
“We recently had a bombing in Cotabato, so we’re looking at that very closely. Although in the nature of things, it doesn’t happen again in the same place right away, definitely in those areas, in that neighborhood, so to speak, we need to be alert,” Jimenez said.
In the wee hours
Election Day will actually begin at 3 a.m. for some of the 490,470 teacher-members of the Boards of Election Tellers (BETs).
“As early as 3 a.m. in some places, to as late as 4:30 a.m. to 5 a.m., our teachers will be on the road. [They] will be going to the city or municipal hall very early in the morning to get their [election] supplies,” Jimenez said.
“There are some cases—for instance in Abra—where the farthest precinct is a two-day hike, I think [their election supplies] have already been sent. We prioritize those that are really far away,” he said, adding that certain areas in Mindanao even “require an eight-hour boat ride.”
For the manual polls, the supplies will include the necessary forms like election returns, tally sheets, minutes of voting, and books of voters, as well as paper, ink, pens, rags, folders and envelopes, Jimenez said.
He issued a reminder to voters to use only the blue and black ballpens from the Comelec in writing down their candidates on the ballot.
“If they use other colors, [their ballots] might be challenged as marked ballots,” he said.
A marked ballot, or a ballot on which a different ink color is used, is called such to indicate that the vote was bought by a candidate.
Jimenez also said the Comelec was still waiting for the budget department’s response to the request that the teachers who would serve in the elections would receive an additional P1,000 to the P2,000 that had been set aside for them.
Divide between rich, poor
But even as the Comelec completes its preparations, Jimenez admitted that the poll body expected a lower voter turnout.
“We are not confident about having a higher voter turnout because traditionally, barangay elections have a low turnout,” Jimenez said.
He said the “normative range” for voter turnout in barangay elections was 60-70 percent, or down by almost 20 percentage points from the 75-80 percent turnout for national elections.
Jimenez said the low voter turnout in barangay elections was caused by “a lack of appreciation of the structure of the barangay” and the benefits it could provide a community.
“Within those [turnout] numbers, we still see a divide between affluent communities that get as low a turnout as 60 percent, and poorer communities that have high turnouts,” Jimenez said.
“It could go as high as 75 percent in some [lower-income areas] especially if these barangays have large populations,” he said.
Jimenez said affluent and middle-class communities had low turnouts because they were not very keen on getting the free basic services—health, education, water—provided by the barangay.
“Affluent communities would rather have advanced services they can afford, while in lower-income communities, these basic services are very important. You know, if you get it free, it’s very, very important,” Jimenez said.
He said this was why “they really fight over the barangay positions in their areas.”
In Metro Manila, the AFP’s National Capital Region Command will deploy around 700 soldiers to back police in 50 checkpoints, said Mapagu, who inspected the soldiers’ readiness Saturday morning.
He said the soldiers would secure voters, the voting precincts and the BETs.
Reservists and civil disturbance management units have also been put on standby, he said.
Mapagu warned soldiers not to take sides in the elections.
“We will not allow the military institution to be dragged into partisan politics. We are a nonpartisan organization, and our role is to ensure that the elections are honest, orderly, peaceful and credible,” Mapagu said.
He said any soldier found to have involvement in partisan activities in the elections would be charged and sanctioned “according to our rules and regulations.”
Mapagu said there were sufficient forces to meet threats from any private armed group.
Potential hotspots monitored
He said potential hotspots in the Bicol region and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, particularly the province of Maguindanao, were being monitored.
Mapagu said the AFP would be closely monitoring the elections in the headquarters of its Task Force HOPE (Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Elections).
He said election-related concerns may be reported through the TF HOPE hotlines at 0939-7916333 (Smart) and 0927-2773666 (Globe).
Mapagu also said a total of 516 people had been arrested for violating the Comelec’s gun ban that started on September 25.
He said 440 firearms, 112 bladed weapons and 23 grenades had been confiscated.
Philip Tubeza & Alcuin Papa, Phil. Daily Inquirer