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PNP readies elite force in Masbate for elections



LEGAZPI CITY—The Philippine National Police in Bicol will be deploying 1,000 police officers, including one battalion of its Special Action Force (SAF), in the island-province of Masbate, dubbed as the “Wild West” of the country due to intense political rivalry that results in bloody election-related violence.

PNP Bicol regional spokesperson Malu Calubaquib said the deployment of special units and 800 policemen from the regional office is a move to augment the PNP force in Masbate in maintaining peace and order by preventing possible breach of the law through violence.

"The PNP regional command will be deploying 800 policemen to augment the present police force in Masbate. This is aside from one battalion of our elite Special Action Force (SAF) that will also be deployed to help our policemen enforce security measures,” she said.

According to Calubaquib, the Task Force Masbate will be headed by Senior Supt. Lito Pitallano with Police Senior Insp. Art Gomez, former chief of police of Malinao, serving as public information officer of the task force.

Historically, Masbate has been under the control of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) following the high incidence of election-related violence in the past years with the presence of warring political camps and goons with high number of loose firearms.

The Comelec Bicol placed the island-province of Masbate under its control following the recommendation of the PNP regional office to avert bloody incidents which stem from intense political rivalry and presence of political armed groups (PAGs).

In the 2010 and 2013 elections, the PNP Bicol recommended to the Comelec to declare 601 villages across the region as election hotspots considering the result of the intense political rivalry, killing prevalence, presence of PAGs and communist insurgents in these areas.

Also, 26 towns in Bicol were classified as “hot spot” areas, which prompted the police and military authorities to recommend these areas to be placed under the control of the poll body.

Masbate topped the list of election hot spots, with 69 villages placed under Category 1 and 103 villages as Category 2 hotspots.; while Sorsogon province had 61 villages as Category 2 hotspots with Gubat town having the most number, with 13, followed by Sorsogon City with 10 villages.

Towns and villages are placed under Category 1 because of election-related violence due to intense political rivalries, killing incidence and existence of PAGs during the past two elections; while under Category 2 are areas that are threatened by communist rebels and other election-related incidents.

In 2010 and 2013, Director Victor P. Deona, former task force commander in Masbate and now Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) central command head, confiscated a large volume of high-powered firearms from warring powerful politicians.

The camps of Antonio Kho, Narciso Bravo, Rizalina Lanete and others turned over their high-powered firearms to Deona as head of the task force.

Currently, the Comelec Bicol, PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Catholic church officials and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting are working together to ensure honest and clean elections this year. (PNA)

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