According to Army Lt. Col. Angelo Guzman, 9th Infantry Division spokesperson based in Pili, Camarines Sur, the deployment of 100 soldiers from their unit will augment the 500-strong Army battalion operating in Masbate province.
Guzman said the sending of additional Army troops was a directive from Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, Solcom chief, made during the AFP-Philippine National Police (PNP)-Commission on Elections (Comelec) dialogue on security preparation for the upcoming May elections in Masbate held on Tuesday in Masbate City.
Quoting Visaya, Guzman said the augmentation is needed to achieve peaceful and orderly elections in May, during which intense political rivalry is prevalent and political armed groups (PAGs), including the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, remain a threat to the communities.
Visaya and Chief Supt. Augusto Marquez Jr., PNP Bicol regional director, reactivated the Joint Masbate Task Force to be headed by Police Sr. Supt. Lito Pitallano and Army Col. Samuel Felipe.
At the dialogue, Visaya gave a marching order to his men to go after PAGs and NPA rebels that threaten to sow fear among residents during the election campaign period.
He appealed to local candidates not to use PAGs to gain advantage against their political rivals and also not to give in to the NPA demand for PTC (permit to campaign) or PTW (permit to win).
Also during the Tuesday dialogue, joint police and military units in Masbate launched the Safe and Fair Elections (SAFE) drive aimed to address security concerns for a peaceful election during the May 9 national and local polls.
At the dialogue, current peace and security issues were addressed, such as only authorized military or police personnel should detailed for security assignment to a political candidate.
The local candidates also agreed to sign an election peace covenant among themselves on Feb. 26.
The event will be witnessed by top Comelec, AFP and PNP officials.
Attending the dialogue were Masbate Gov. Vincent Revil; former Gov. Antonio Kho and his wife, Rep. Olga Kho of the 2nd District; and town mayors Narciso Bravo of San Fernando, Natividad Revil of Milagros, Romeo Dela Rosa of Baleno.
Earlier, the reactivated Regional Special Operation Task Group Masbate composed of 350 policemen from various PNP units, including a company (100-strong) of Special Action Force commandos is now operating in Masbate.
The battalion of elite police unit will augment the 1,000 police force in the province. (PNA)