Comelec-5 sees less violations, armed groups in 2016 elections

SORSOGON CITY—The head of the Commission on Elections Bicol regional office sees decreases in the number of private armed groups (PAGs) and electoral violations in the coming May 2016 polls.

Lawyer Romeo B. Fortes, Comelec-Bicol regional executive director, made the assessment before members of the Provincial Joint Security Coordinating Center at this camp’s Kasanggayahan Hall at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Police Senior Supt. Ronaldo R. Cabral, Sorsogon Police Provincial Office officer-in-charge, welcomed the PJSCC members .

Fortes said agencies led by the Comelec will be more focused on vote-buying and illegal campaigning activities.While vote-buying would be hard to catch and prove, the law enforcers can go after those conspiring to buy votes, he said.

“For instance, if we can catch a person who is in possession of, say, Php1 million, with sample ballots with it, we can charge him for conspiracy to buy votes,” the Comelec official said.

Or, a police officer sees campaign materials nailed on trees, he can remove it for illegal campaigning and in pursuit of the Comelec’s “Operasyon Baklas”.This, Fortes said, is summary abatement of illegal propaganda or campaign materials.

He still sees Masbate as an election hotspot and for this reason, the Philippine Army will be sending 1,000 soldiers to the province.

Masbate had consistently been tagged as an election hot spot in previous elections because of the intense political rivalries among political clans there, including election-related violence that claimed the lives of hundreds of people.

Based on record, Masbate has the most number of villages that were placed under Comelec control, with 40 villages in 18 towns.

Igmidio Emilio Camposano, a local trial court judge there and Masbate Advocate for Peace president, said in an earlier interview with the Philippines News Agency that their group, in this early stage, is preparing to map out pre-election scenarios to ensure that the May 2016 elections in the province would be peaceful and orderly.

Camposano said his worst fear in the upcoming polls is the intense political rivalries that end up in violence, hiring of PAGS, vote-buying and harassment.

According to him, PAGs are being used by local politician as an instrument to sow terror and violence and eliminate political leaders to gain political advantage over their rivals.

In the previous national and local elections, there were at least six PAGs listed operating in Masbate, of which only two are active -- the Arizobal and Villaruel groups -- with 38 members.

For this reason, Task Force Masbate was created after reports that local politicians here exercise too much influence over the police and sometimes the police were being dictated upon in the conduct of their operations.

Fortes also informed the PJSCC members that four election-related incidents have already occurred in Masbate since the filing of the certificates of candidacy of local officials, one of them right after the victim had just filed his COC.

He considers the election-related violent incidents to start on the filing of the COC and not only during the election period, from Jan. 9 to June 8.

In saying earlier that there would be less electoral violations this time, Fortes said the number of those who have filed their COCs this year has decreased by 20 percent compared to that of the previous election.(PNA)