Eleven of the 31 towns and cities in Negros Occidental, excluding Bacolod City, have been included in the Election Watchlist Areas of the Philippine National Police.
Senior Supt. Celestino Guara, caretaker of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, yesterday said the city of Escalante falls under Category 1, where employment of private armed groups by candidates and intense political rivalry are likely to occur.
The cities of Cadiz, Victorias, Sipalay and Himamaylan, and towns of Manapla, Toboso, Calatrava, Moises Padilla, Binalbagan and Ilog fall under Category 2, where possible election-related incidents may take place due to the presence of armed rebels.
Guara and Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, however, also said those areas are merely “reference for planning”, as they are still subject to validations.
Lactao also stressed that there is no “cause for alarm”, as only one or two barangays or sitios in the towns or cities tagged are possible election hotspots, and not the whole area.
The police recorded a series of extra-judicial killings in Escalante City from 2007 to 2010, majority of which took place during election periods, and responsibility for many were claimed by the New People’s Army.
Guara said they are still validating reports on the alleged existence of a private armed group, which may be used by politicians in the May 13 elections.
Provincial Comelec Supervisor Jessie Suarez, who presided over the command conference of the Provincial Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Center at Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr. in Bacolod City, said candidates who wish to campaign in critical areas, may seek permission from Comelec to ask the police to provide them road security, but not to escort them.
Starting next week, Guara said, they will also conduct an inventory of all inmates in Negros Occidental, because of incidents in previous elections where some of them had been allowed to go out from jail, and contracted as assassins by some politicians.
Lactao also warned politicians against employing communist rebels as private armed groups.
Suarez also discouraged security guards from bringing their service firearms from their workplace to their homes, or they may face arrest for violation of the Comelec gun ban.
Police records show that 20 persons, including a rookie police officer, have been arrested in Western Visayas, for violation of the Comelec gun ban, since it was enforced January 13.*GPB