• GILBERT P. BAYORAN
The Regional Joint Security Coordinating Center has identified 51 barangays in Negros Occidental as election watchlist areas (EWAS), in line with the synchronized barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled for October 30.
Among the EWAS in Negros Occidental, three barangays are categorized as areas of concern, 45 as areas of immediate concern, and three others as areas of grave concern.
Negros Occidental has 662 barangays.
The Philippine Army initially recommended 55 barangays in Negros Occidental to be placed under EWAS, due to sightings of New People’s Army rebels.
A barangay is categorized as an election area of concern if it has recorded election related incidents in the past two years, while areas of immediate concern means there is a serious armed threat from the New People’s Army, or individuals.
A village placed under areas of grave concern category indicates the presence of armed rebels, employment of partisan armed men, intense political rivalry, and a history of election related incidents in the past, based on the parameters issued by the Commission on Elections.
Brig. Gen. Orlando Edralin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, earlier admitted that sightings of armed rebels were monitored in some hinterland barangays of Negros Occidental.
Among provinces in Western Visayas, Iloilo has the greatest number of EWAS at 93, followed by Negros Occidental at 51, Capiz – 14, Antique – 12, Aklan – 2, and zero in Guimaras, bringing to 172 the total number of villages in the region to be closely monitored by RJSCC during the BSKE 20223 polls, a Comelec report said.
On the other hand, the Philippine National Police also reported that 27 barangays were placed under EWAS in Negros Oriental.
Col. Ronan Claravall, acting provincial police director of Negros Oriental, disclosed that majority of those areas are in the 3rd district of the province.
Comelec provincial election supervisor-designate lawyer Eliseo Labaria said 26 areas fell under the areas of immediate concern category, while the remaining one is categorized as an area of concern.
Labaria, however, clarified that once Negros Oriental is placed under Comelec control, “this categorization will no longer apply because we treat the whole province as one and the same category.”
The Regional Joint Security Control Center (RJSCC) in Central Visayas will reassess the situation in Negros Oriental as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) gave the green light to proceed with the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections on Oct. 30.
Lawyer Lionel Marco Castillano, Comelec-7 regional director, said the RJSCC, which he chaired, will determine if more troops are needed to secure the province once the 10-day campaign period starts on Oct. 19.
“There are a lot of PNP (Philippine National Police) and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) troops there that were added even before the declaration,” Castillano said.* with PNA report