CEBU CITY -- Fourteen towns and cities in Cebu Province were eyed as possible “election watch list areas” where violence could erupt during the 2013 midterm polls.
As the police and election officials outlined their security plans on Friday, Superintendent Paul Labra II identified these areas as Sogod, Barili, San Fernando, Daanbantayan, Tuburan, Ronda, Pinamungajan, Tabogon, Dumanjug, Sta. Fe, Lapu-Lapu City, Bogo City, Danao City and Carcar City.
Labra is the chief of the Regional Intelligence Division of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas.
A history of election-related violence, intense partisan rivalry and presence of organized crime groups were among the reasons these areas were listed.
In Central Visayas, 19 more towns and cities are being evaluated as possible “election areas of concern” and the police said they also continue to monitor insurgent movements in Negros Oriental.
Meanwhile, 10 potential private armed groups with close to 100 members operating in Central Visayas are being monitored by the police.
In Cebu Province, these robbery groups were identified as the Sumabong-Ancero Group, Omboy-Sanopao Group, Sigue Group and Sidlak Group.
PRO-Central Visayas Director Marcelo Garbo Jr. said the groups were reportedly used before by some politicians and could disrupt electoral proceedings or create tension.
“Right now, we have not listed any private armed group because they are inactive, have been neutralized or arrested,” he said.
Garbo revealed they have the names of the groups’ supporters and held a dialogue with them late last year.
“I have talked with opposing parties and told them to play within the rules of the game. No guns and goons,” he said.
In Negros Province, the areas being closely watched are Bayawan City, Canlaon City, Tanjay City, Jimalalud, Bacong, Basay, La Libertad, Zamboanguita, Villahermoso, Guihulngan City, Bindoy, Pamplona, Sibulan, Valencia and Siaton.
The towns of Trinidad, Carmen, and Tagbilarn in Bohol and Larena in Siquijor also made it to the watch-list.
Once the election period begins on January 13, police officers who have been detailed as escorts to elected government officials will be pulled out, said Commission on Elections (Comelec)-Central Visayas Director Temie Lambino.
Lambino said, however, that any candidates running for local executive positions can avail themselves of private protective agents accredited by the Philippine National Police (PNP), depending on a threat assessment.
“They must apply before January 13 to be given temporary security detail,” he said.
A maximum of two private personnel will be afforded to a candidate and they can use only a 12-gauge shotgun and 9mm pistol.
A gun ban will also be enforced during the election period starting on January 13 as provided under Resolution 9561-A of Comelec.
“No person shall bear, carry or transport firearms or other deadly weapons outside his residence or place of business, and in public places except for members of PNP, AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), and agents performing security functions,” Lambino added.
Police officers will also be relieved and assigned to other units if any member of their family or relatives is running for office in the area where they are assigned.
The revamp is expected to be implemented in Central Visayas to dispel doubts on the partiality of commanders.
In preparation for the elections, police are now intensifying their campaign against loose weapons.
Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta, head of the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO), said the campaign will help ensure honest and peaceful elections.
As of October 2012, there were 562,000 unrenewed gun licenses in the country.
As of Friday, there were 4,114,061 registered voters in Central Visayas, which is an increase of three percent compared to the previous election.
Lambino said Cebu continues to be the top vote-rich province, with 2,509,520 voters recorded.
“Our projection is it should have been a five percent increase every three years but these could be affected because of the cleansing we have implemented,” he said.
Lambino said some voters were deactivated for failing to vote before or for transferring their residences.
Asked for comments on the security plan, he assured the people have nothing to worry especially after the successful first automated elections in 2010.
“What we need to watch are outside circumstances where cheating is highly possible,” Lambino said. (DSM/Sun.Star Cebu)