MANILA: Philippine police on Tuesday announced the formation of special task forces to prevent election violence in the country’s volatile south, where deadly incidents have marred polls for years.
Electoral campaigning is underway in the Philippines with one month left to the vote on May 9, when Filipinos will choose the successor to President Rodrigo Duterte as part of the year’s general election.
Violence has been a recurring concern during Philippine polls, which counts as one of the deadliest periods in the country’s politics, especially in the south where warlord-politicians often have their own private armies.
The new police units will operate in the provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region on the island of Mindanao where some places have been categorized by police as “areas of concern.”
Lt. Col. Cristio Lagyop, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Police, told Arab News the formation of the task forces was seen as necessary because of the presence of “private armed groups, criminal gangs, proliferation of loose firearms, and threat groups in the area.”
“As of now, together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we continue to monitor the activities of these threat groups,” he said, adding that one such group surrendered to police on March 23 and negotiations were underway with another two.
According to police data, most of the groups have already been disbanded as security forces started preparing for the polls last year.
“Out of the 18 accounted (for) by the PNP (Philippine National Police) Directorate for Intelligence, there are only two remaining,” Lagyop said. “These are being continuously monitored.”
Election-related violence usually aims at excluding others from the political process. Not only politicians, but also journalists have been targeted as they uncover information and report on candidates.
One of the deadliest election-related incidents in the country was the Maguindanao massacre that took place in November 2009, ahead of the presidential vote in 2010. It claimed 58 lives — politicians, their supporters, and at least 32 journalists.
The incident triggered widespread condemnation, but the region continues to be an electoral hotspot, where violence was expected during the election cycle.
More than 67 million Filipinos are expected to cast their votes in the upcoming polls to choose a new president, vice president, around 300 lawmakers, and 18,000 local government officials, including provincial governors and town mayors.