Poll suspension in Mindanao seen over martial law extension
Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will hold public hearings on the possible suspension of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections in Mindanao due to the extension of martial law in the area.

“Independently, we will conduct another hearing as we had done before in Davao to see the situation on the ground. We will determine if we should suspend the elections because of the state of lawlessness or rebellion,” Comelec Commissioner Luie Guian said yesterday.

“If martial law will be extended, we will probably adopt the same process we used in Davao the last time,” he added.

The poll body is required to hold public hearings before it can decide to postpone or declare a failure of elections.

The Comelec previously suspended the holding of the barangay and SK elections in Mindanao because of the prevailing rebellion and state of lawlessness. 

Guia said martial law would be taken into consideration and the Comelec will conduct a separate assessment before it can make a final decision on the matter.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said consultation is necessary to determine the agency and people who will have the authority concerning security in Mindanao.

The Comelec normally has control of security during elections.

The Omnibus Election Code provides that elections may be postponed after the conduct of notice and hearing, wherein all parties are afforded equal opportunity to be heard.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured Congress yesterday that the extension of martial law in Mindanao would not be used to justify the postponement of the barangay and SK elections.

“We see reasons why the barangay elections will not push through,” Lorenzana said in a reply to Sen. Francis Escudero, who noted the Comelec earlier raised the prospect of postponing the elections in Mindanao due to martial law.

Citing the Omnibus Election Code, Escudero said the Comelec is empowered to postpone the elections due to any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction.

The senator said the poll body could reset the elections 30 days after the violence or rebellion is quelled.

Escudero expressed concern that the one year martial law could affect the holding of the 2019 midterm elections, as the filing of the certificates of candidacy is expected to be in October 2018.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who was also arguing for the extension of martial law in Congress along with other Malacañang officials, said the Comelec, being an independent body, could make its own decision on the matter.

“The elections will go on as scheduled,” Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra told lawmakers.

 Lorenzana admitted the security cluster might recommend to the Comelec to postpone the elections in some parts of Mindanao on a “case-to-case” basis.

“If there are violent incidents there that will prevent the electorate to go to the polls, then that will be an exception,” he said.

‘Lift martial law’

A multi-sectoral group called for the immediate lifting of martial law in Mindanao.

The Kalipunan ng Kilusang Masa cited numerous reports of harassment and public humiliation of civilians in Mindanao since martial law was declared.

“Undeniably, the struggle of the Mindanaoans for peace was made even more arduous and bleak with the declaration of martial law in the entire island region. Such declaration blatantly set aside years of peace building by social movements, and one that has done nothing but sow fear among people and suppress their rights,” the group said.  

It said Congress, as supposed representatives of the people, should heed their demand to uphold human rights by voting for the lifting of martial law.

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