The Western Command (WESCOM) assured Palaweños of a safe and honest election on May 13 even if three towns in southern Palawan have been identified as “hotspots” due to previous records of poll-related incidents.

Vice Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the WESCOM, said Saturday night that based on reports by Joint Task Force Peacock (JTFP) under Brigadier General Charles Sean Gaerlan of the 3rd Marine Battalion, there is “no potential threat” in the province.

“With regards to our preparation for the local elections, JTFP is in charge of our plan implementation, and we are sure enough that we can have a safe and honest election 2019,” Medina said.

He said that according to the Commission on Election (COMELEC), the towns of Quezon, Rizal, and Bataraza are election hotspots in Palawan.

“But based on our current information right now, no potential threats have been recorded in these areas. The criteria that were used in determining the hotspot areas is based on the last election. Right now, we believe that they’re not really that hotspot,” he added.

Earlier, Police Lieutenant Colonel Socrates Faltado, information officer of the Police Regional Office MIMAROPA, said there are nine towns in Palawan included in the Election Watchlist Areas (EWAS) for the 2019 midterm elections.

Faltado said that the inclusion of the nine municipalities in the EWAS is part of their monitoring system for Palawan.

“We’re not yet allowed to disclose the information about what these municipalities are in your area because we do not want to cause undue alarm. We do not want to raise concern as we do not want to compromise security. But you can expect police efforts to pour [in these towns],” he pointed out.

A particular area or municipality can be identified in the EWAS if they fall under three categories: the minimum need for concern, areas where there are threats from rebel and terrorist groups or a mix of both.

Faltado explained that minimum need for concern means the area or municipality has recorded incidents of “political rivalry in the past presumed to be still happening with private armed groups (PAGS)” while areas with threats are about the presence of rebel and terrorist groups like the New People’s Army (NPA), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and others.

“Your area is near Mindanao, therefore, close to where these terrorist groups are situated. We want to keep the safety of the election away from that,” he added.

Under COMELEC Resolution No. 10481, an area can be placed under PNP and COMELEC control due to the history of political violence between rival groups; previously placed under COMELEC control; the presence of PAGs; use of loose firearms of individuals not qualified to handle them, and serious threat from rebel and terrorist groups.

There will be an increased presence of checkpoints and the deployment of additional police and military personnel can be expected in some parts of the province as part of election- related security operations, he said.