LEGAZPI CITY (22-Jan-2013) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec), in coordination with the Philippine National Police (PNP), has placed at least 27 towns and a city in Bicol as election hot spots due to intense political rivalries in the past elections and the presence of private armed groups (PAGs) and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
Supt. Renato Bataller, PNP Bicol spokesperson, said in an interview on Tuesday that 14 towns in Masbate are considered as election hot spots; followed by Camarines Sur and Iriga City, both with six towns; Sorsogon with four towns; Camarines Norte with two; and Albay with one.
The island province of Catanduanes has none.
Bataller, quoting a report from a joint Comelec-PNP meeting held last week, said Masbate has more than half of its 20 towns included in the election watch list.
These are the towns of Balud, Cataingan, Claveria, Dimasalang, Milagros, Placer, San Fernando, San Pascual, Aroroy, Balena, Palanas, Uson and Mobo.
Bataller said of these areas, nine towns were considered as Category 1 election watch list areas because of intense political rivalries, which might once more trigger violence during the election period, while five towns were under Category 2, meaning there is presence of NPA rebels operating in the area.
He said under Category 1, the Comelec and the PNP will be closely monitoring the concerned areas and give priority action to address election-related concerns.
Worst-case scenario that may happen once election-related violence erupts is placing these areas under Comelec control, he added.
Bataller said the Regional Special Operation Task Group in Masbate is closely monitoring PAGs activities in four towns in Masbate.
These include Balud, Dimaslang, Milagros and Placer.
He said two PAGs under the Arizobal and Villaruel leaderships are employed by local politicians in these areas.
In Camarines Sur, placed under election hot spots Category 1 were the towns of Pasacao, Siruma, Lupi, Bula and Bato and Iriga City.
In Sorsogon, towns in the election watch list are Barcelona, Bulusan, Irosin and Magallanes; while in Camarines Norte, the towns are Labo and Capalonga.
In Albay, only the town of Malinao is considered as Category 1 hot spot area while no town was included in the election watch list in Catanduanes.
At the joint meeting, the PNP regional office said it would deploy additional police forces in those areas identified as hot spots.
Chief Supt. Clarence Guinto, PNP Bicol regional director, said 188 checkpoints have been set up and manned by over 1,000 policemen across the region. (PNA)