The 90-day national campaign in the Philippines for 62 senatorial candidates and 134 party-list groups in the May 13, 2019 elections has started.
The campaign kicked off on February 12, with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) warning candidates against committing electoral offenses.
Also on that day, the Philippine National Police said that there are 701 election hotspots across the country.
The Senate race is considered to be tight, with seven senators seeking reelection, six others wanting to return to the chamber and several prominent candidates, including those endorsed by President Rodrigo Duterte, fighting over only 12 slots.
The Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), a regional party headed by Davao City Mayor and Duterte daughter Sara Duterte, is supporting Senators Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara, Joseph Victor Ejercito, and Aquilino Pimentel III.
The HNP is also supporting other candidates: former special assistant to the president Christopher Go, former Bureau of Corrections chief Ronaldo dela Rosa, former political affairs adviser Francis Tolentino, Taguig City-Pateros congresswoman Pia Cayetano, former senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, Maguindanao Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu and former journalist Jiggy Manicad.
The opposition senatorial slate is called Otso Diretso (Straight Eight). The slate is composed of Senator Bam Aquino, former senator Mar Roxas, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, former Quezon congressman Erin Tañada, and Magdalo party list congressman Gary Alejano.
In a press briefing in Camp Crame, PNP Chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde, said the 701 hotspots are divided into: 223 areas of concern (yellow category), 382 areas of immediate concern (orange category), 94 areas of grave concern (red category), and two areas under control of the Comelec.
Albayalde said a place tagged as an area of concern means it has a history of election-related incidents in the last two elections and intense political rivalry, and it had been previously declared under Comelec control.
Areas of immediate concern are those where there is serious armed threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and rogue elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other lawless elements.
Areas of grave concern exhibit the combined factors under the yellow and orange categories, such that it may warrant the motu proprio (on its own) declaration of Comelec control.
Under the law, the Comelec may place any political subdivision under its immediate and direct control and supervision if, among other things, there is a history of or current intense political rivalry among contending parties, as these rivalries could motivate people to engage in violent acts.
”On election matters, as the campaign period gets underway for national elective positions in the May 13, 2019 mid-term elections, the PNP is seriously considering some adjustments in our projected deployment of police units and personnel for election duties,” Albayalde said.
Of the 94 areas of grave concern, 27 are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), 19 in the Bicol region, seven each in Calabarzon and Western Mindanao, six each in Mimaropa and Western Visayas, five in Northern Mindanao, four each in Soccsksargen and the Cordillera region, three in Eastern Visayas, two each in Central Luzon and Davao region and one each in Caraga and Cagayan Valley.
Regions without areas of grave concern include Ilocos, National Capital Region (NCR) and Central Visayas.
In the National Capital Region, five areas — Manila, Caloocan, Pasay, Mandaluyong, and Malabon – have been classified as areas of concern.
“Currently in effect for the entire duration of the campaign period is a set of rules imposed by the Comelec, specifically on prescribed limits of campaign activities and other illegal acts defined under the Omnibus Election Code,” Albayalde said.
He also reiterated the PNP’s strict compliance with all Comelec resolutions on the ban on carrying firearms and employment of bodyguards.
“Everyone is reminded of the Alunan Doctrine that allows only two security personnel under extreme cases, subject to background investigation and approval by Comelec,” he added.
The campaign period for candidates for senator and party list groups is from February 12, 2019 to May 11, 2019, with campaigning prohibited March 28, 2019 (Holy Thursday) and March 29, 2019 (Good Friday).
Meanwhile, the Campaign Period for candidates for Members of the House of Representatives and elective Regional, Provincial, City and Municipal Officials will run from March 30, 2019 to May 11, 2019.
Campaigning in the Philippines is prohibited from May 12-13, 2019, which is also the period for the liquor ban.
The gun ban period started on January 13, 2019. The gun ban will be effective until June 12.