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Dialogues with candidates planned for Masbate polls

February 14, 2010

DESCRIBING MASBATE AS BEING “IN A STATE OF POLITICAL CALAMITY,” ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY NORBERTO GONZALES YESTERDAY SAID HE WOULD HOLD DIALOGUES WITH POLITICIANS IN THE PROVINCE TO PERSUADE THEM TO SIGN AN AGREEMENT FOR FAIR AND VIOLENCE-FREE ELECTIONS ON MAY 10.
Gonzales visited the province on Friday as part of the Department of National Defense and military’s campaign to help the Commission on Elections in ensuring a clean and peaceful automated balloting.
“The situation in Masbate reminds me of Maguindanao,” he said in a statement after receiving military and police reports of a “highly politicized” law enforcement in the area.
Fifty-seven people were killed in the Maguindanao massacre on Nov. 23, 2009, in what has been considered the worst electoral violence in Philippine history. It has been blamed on the powerful Ampatuan clan and its private armies.
Police data showed that 368 people were killed in Masbate in 2008 for sociopolitical reasons. But only 47 cases were brought to court while the rest were recorded only in police blotters with no complaints filed.
State forces have identified 10 private armed groups in Masbate, four of which have been validated, Gonzales said.
The secretary met with the Joint Security Coordinating Council (JSCC) and Task Force Masbate (TFM) to check on reports that 2,500 members of “political armed groups” (PAGs) from Central Luzon and the Visayas were hired by warring political clans in Masbate.
Gonzales has also ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to work more closely with the police.
He also indicated the possibility of putting Masbate under Comelec control.
On January 21, the island-province was placed under special police watch until the end of the election period. The TFM will oversee all law enforcement and security operations there.
The task force is led by Senior Superintendent Victor Deona who has under his command two battalions of Army soldiers and a police special force.
It has 100 specially trained commandos of the PNP Special Action Force, aside from the 30 personnel from the police regional headquarters in Legazpi City.
To insulate them from politics, the commandos will directly report to Chief Supt. Perfecto Palad, head of the JSCC.
All but five of Masbate’s 20 towns have been declared “hot spots” by the PNP.
Eight candidates are aspiring for Congress in the three districts of Masbate, while three others have filed their certificates of candidacy for governor.
Two are running for vice governor and 28 are contesting the 10 provincial board seats. Hundreds more are vying for mayor, vice mayor and municipal and city councils in the lone city and 20 municipalities.
Earlier, the Philippine National Police reshuffled the town police chiefs in Masbate to prevent local politicians from using police forces in their campaigns.
Palad said the revamp was the first in a series of moves to ensure successful national and local elections in May, as it was widely believed that politicians exercised too much influence over the police and sometimes the police were being dictated upon in the conduct of their operations.
PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa met recently with the police-led JSCC at the police provincial headquarters in Masbate City.
Verzosa directed Palad to coordinate all security plans to disband four private armies of local politicians that were believed behind many of the killings in the province.
He said more mobile checkpoints would be set up across the province to disarm unauthorized gun holders.
With a report from Mar S. Arguelles, Inquirer Southern Luzon