The Commission on Election has named a city and seven towns in Cebu province in the final list of 22 election watchlist areas (Ewas) in Central Visayas.
The eight election hotspots in Cebu included three in the fourth congressional districts of Cebu, namely Bogo City and the towns of Medellin and Daanbantayan; two in the fifth district — Carmen and San Francisco on Camotes Islands; Dumanjug in the seventh district; Tuburan in the third district; and San Fernando in first district.
Cebu Provincial Election Supervisor Eliseo Labaria, in a phone interview, told Cebu Daily News that San Francisco was a recent addition due to the strafing incident of a residence of a village chief, Reynaldo Sablas Maranga of Barangay Himensulan, which convinced the Joint Peace Security and Coordinating Council (JPSCC) in Central Visayas to include it under Ewas.
The other areas in the lists were the towns of Antequera, Bilar, Buenavista, Clarin, Danao, Inabanga, Tubigon and Ubay, all in Bohol; and all six towns of Siquijor: Larena, Siquijor, San Juan, Maria, Lazi and Enrique Villanueva.
These local government units (LGUs) were identified as “category 2” or areas that have history of intense political rivalry. Additional security personnel will be deployed in these areas, Labaria said.
The Regional Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Council (RJPSCC), a joint body of the regional office of the Commission on Election (Comelec) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Central Command, affirmed the presence of additional security forces in these areas.
“These areas will receive more than the normal deployment of police officers. Based on the instructions of our regional director, we will be fielding forward deployment or contingency forces to preempt any possible problem that may erupt or occur on election day,” said Senior Supt. Rey Lyndon Lawas, deputy regional director for operation of Police Regional Office Central Visayas (PRO-7), during the final briefing held yesterday at the Cityscape Hotel here.
The additional policemen deployed to hotspots would come from the Regional Public Safety Battalion Central Visayas (RPSB-7), he said.
Lawas said the augmentation forces would be deployed to these hotspots soon as the vote-counting machines (VCM) would be distributed to the polling places in Cebu province on May 2, 3 and 4.
Central Visayas Election Supervisor Jose Nick Mendros, who chairs the RJPSCC, said the VCMs would be closely guarded.
“We are preparing (against VCM snatching) not because we are expecting it to happen but we just want to determine what possible immediate action we can apply in case of incidents like these,” said Mendros.
For Central Visayas, 4,066 VCMs were allocated for the May 9 national and local polls, he said.
Mendros, speaking during yesterday’s press briefing, said they were “one hundred percent ready for the elections.”
Police considered one or all of the following reasons in placing an area under Ewas: 1) history of intense political rivalry, 2) incidents of election-related violence, 3) presence of private armed groups, and 4) proliferation of firearms.
Chief Supt. Patrocinio Comendador, regional director of PRO-7, revealed in yesterday’s press briefing that at least one armed group has been monitored in southern Cebu. “We monitored a potential private armed group but we are still validating it,” said Comendador.
Comendador earlier directed Senior Supt. Clifford Gairanod, Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) director, to deploy policemen in choke points and main roads of areas identified as hotspots to curtail presence of armed men or groups in these places.
Lawas, however, said that Cebu, in general, was expected to remain peaceful on election day as a result of the peace covenants forged among rival political candidates in its towns and cities early this year.
“We don’t have critical areas for elections. These areas are shortlisted based on their history of intense political rivalry and we were able to do something about it. Most of them are in ‘normal’ condition for now, but we will not be complacent as we are heading toward the final stretch of election security,” he said.
Medellin Mayor Ricardo Ramirez questioned why his town was placed under Ewas.
“This coming election is just like past elections . . . Cebuanos get so emotionally involved in elections but fortunately its mostly verbal tussles but never did it transform into physical violence. I don’t really see the need for it but I suspect this was requested by the Liberal Party,” he told CDN.
Ramirez claimed LP would want a “repeat performance” of the 2013 elections when units of the Philippine National Police (PNP) allegedly acted as if they were escorting members of the Martinez family, considered the most influential political clan in the fourth district, as they went from one barangay to another “in order to give the impression to voters that they were in control.”
In this election, Ramirez is running for vice mayor while his son, Ricardo Rodulfo IV, is running for mayor under National Unity Party (NUP), which is allied with One Cebu. The younger Ramirez and Provincial Board (PB) member Joven “Benjun” Mondigo (LP) are contesting the town’s mayoral post.
Mondigo, in a separate interview, said his group “appreciated” the town’s inclusion in Ewas because “we want to ensure peaceful and clean elections here so that the will of the people will be heard.”
In the case of Bogo City, the JPSCC said it was included in Ewas because of its history of election-related incidents involving the camps of Bogo Mayor Celestino “Junnie” Martinez and fourth district Rep. Benhur Salimbangon. Martinez (LP) and Salimbangon (One Cebu) will be squaring off for the district’s congressional seat on May 9.
Martinez, reached by phone, refused to comment on Ramirez’s allegations, saying he “doesn’t want to stoop down” to the level of the Medellin mayor.
Martinez added Bogo might have been included in the watchlist because of the past incident involving him and Salimbangon, both of whom were involved in a standoff during the 2010 polls.
Last January, Martinez was indicted for grave coercion by the Office of the Ombudsman in January for allegedly intimidating Salimbangon and his group then.
In Bogo itself, Martinez said the mayoral race would not be hotly contested, as he claimed, there was little chance that his son and anointed successor, lawyer and former National Telecommunications Commissioner Carlo Martinez, would lose to NUP’s mayoral bet, lawyer Steve Siclot.
Dumanjug town is in the Ewas list after the JPSCC took note of a strafing and grenade-throwing incident against Vice Mayor Efren “Gungun” Gica and some of his friends and supporters last year. Gica (LP) is running for the mayoral post on May 9 against the reelectionist incumbent, Nelson Garcia, a member of the Garcia-led One Cebu party.
Gica said he welcomed the inclusion of his town in the watchlist, saying “it would be best so that our voters will not be afraid.”
CDN tried to seek the comment of Garcia but he could not be reached.
Daanbantayan Mayor Augusto Corro, who is seeking reelection under LP, said he would abide with the Comelec’s decision.
“I can’t do anything about it. But let me tell you, it’s not because of me but because of my opponent’s doings that the Comelec placed this town in the list,” he said in a phone interview.
He said his opponents have accused him of hiring goons and armed men, but he stressed that it was the other way around.
PB Member Sun Shimura, sought to comment on Corro’s claim, said they believed the “truth (would soon) come out.” Shimura’s stepfather, retired police general Vicente Loot, is running for mayor against Corro under the NUP-One Cebu alliance.
According to Shimura, they have allegedly monitored the presence of armed men believed to have come from Lapu-Lapu City, where Corro’s sister, Paz Radaza, is the incumbent mayor seeking reelection under LP. Radaza could not be reached for comment last night.
Shimura said they were convinced it would be in the best interest of the town to be included in Ewas as it would mean that more policemen would be assigned in the town.
Bakud Party leader and Danao City Vice Mayor Ramon “Red” Durano VI, meanwhile, said he could understand why San Francisco was in the list but he was surprised over the inclusion of Carmen town.
He noted that Carmen has no history of election-related violence and was not in the watchlist in the 2013 elections.
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