LESS THAN a week before the May 13 midterm polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) launched a task force intended to address the long-standing problem of vote buying.

“The Comelec last week formed a resolution that physically created a task force for the purpose investigating and prosecuting vote buying cases,” said Comelec Commissioner Al A. Parreño at the launch on Wednesday.

Comelec’s “Task Force Kontra Bigay” is in partnership with the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

The task force’s head, Comelec Director John Rex C. Laudiangco, said, “Admittedly, the election offense of vote buying is one of the most difficult to investigate and prosecute. This is why we created the task force…so instead of complainants getting discouraged, we are here to guide them.”

Meanwhile, poll-watcher Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) said it will deploy 300,000 volunteers, about half of the number in the 2016 elections.

PPCRV Chairperson Myla C. Villanueva, in a press briefing Wednesday, said this year’s volunteers is still “quite a large number… And also if that number is not enough, the spirit is very, very strong.”

“I have been talking to our coordinators across the country. And aside from preparations and voters education, they are really organizing themselves to be able to cover as many precincts as possible,” she added.

PPCRV Media Director Agnes Gervacio also said they are “ready to carry-out (their) mandate” and the office still welcomes volunteers.

“We would be doing the unofficial parallel count for the next two weeks after the election,” she said.

The poll-watcher launched on Wednesday their Command Center at the Pope John XXIII Hall in Pope Pius XII Catholic Center along United Nations Ave. in Manila, where their parallel count of the votes from close to 87,000 precincts will be conducted.

In another development, the PNP reported 31 election-related violence since the election period started last Jan. 13 until May 7.

Based on data, there were 49 victims, including 14 killed, 14 wounded or injured, and 21 unharmed.

In comparison with previous election periods, 106 incidents of election-related violence were recorded in 2016 from Jan. 10 to May 8, and 94 incidents in 2013.

The PNP also reported on Wednesday that it has confiscated 331 firearms from various security agencies in Metro Manila through its intensified operations against loose firearms.

Of the total, 250 were from security agencies with cease-to-operate orders while 81 were seized through the conduct of post-to-post inspection since the start of election period.

PNP chief Gen. Oscar D. Albayalde noted that some elected officials and candidates have their own security agencies. — Gillian M. Cortez, Vann Marlo M. Villegas, and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras