By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY (28-Dec-2012/PNA) – The church hierarchy in Masbate has aligned itself with the government campaign to ensure peaceful and honest 2013 elections in the province.
Chief supt. Jose Arne de los Santos, the regional director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) for Bicol based at Camp Gen. Simeon Ola here, said Masbate Bishop Jose Bantolo had recently called on Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, the provincial PNP director, signifying the intention of the local church hierarchy to join the campaign.
“This is a very positive development insofar as Masbate is concerned because the help of the religious sector is indeed important in thwarting the possible outbreak of violence in that province in relation to the coming elections,” De los Santos said.
The local police official and church leader have already discussed the mechanics covering the partnership that includes the initiation of a peace covenant to be forged between warring political camps in the province, he said.
Bishop Bartolo also committed to the local PNP that he will mobilize priests, other church leaders and the social arm of the diocese under his stewardship to initiate a massive voters’ education drive to awaken the electorate on their duties and responsibilities toward a peaceful and just conduct of the elections in the province.
The church would also remind voters against participating in any politically-motivated violent undertaking, according to De los Santos.
The Masbate provincial police organization including the Police Regional Special Operations Task Group under the command of Senior Supt. Arnold Albis, on the other hand, will continue its intensified campaign to disarm and disband private armed groups (PAGs) suspected employed by certain politicians in the province.
These PAGs are notorious criminals hired to ensure the victory of their employers in the coming polls through violent means, De los Santos said.
There are at least six PAGs reported in Masbate and two of them have been identified as the Arizobal and Villaruel groups that are composed of about 50 armed goons suspected hired by local political warlords.
Apart from these two groups, the Masbate PNP provincial office is also monitoring the organization of four more groups.
“We are employing the fullest of our authority and resources to disband them and prevent the disruption of the peaceful, honest and orderly conduct of the May 2013 elections,” De Los Santos said.
Since Masbate is considered one of the areas in the country listed as “hotspots”, a police Regional Special Operations Task Group has been deployed to focus on the implementation of the PNP’s “SAFE (Secure And Fair Elections) 2013” including going after loose firearms and fugitive criminals in the province.
At present, incumbent governor Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, who is running for her first reelection, and 2nd Distrcit Representative Antonio Kho are in a heated rivalry for the province’s top post.
Kho, who is finishing his nine-year term as congressman next year, is fighting to maintain his clout in the local political circle acquired amidst a series of political murders that victimized key members of the once powerful Espinosa clan.
Governor Lanete rose to power after defeating in the 2010 elections then governor Elisa Kho, the congressman’s wife.
Lanete’s elder brother, former 3rd district congressman Fausto Seachon, was killed shortly after that elections. (PNA)