By Vicente Alejandro, VERA Files
CATBALOGAN CITY—As the start of the campaign period for the May 13 elections draws near, the Philippine National Police in Eastern Visayas is pursuing the remaining members of two partisan/private armed groups (PAGs) in hotspot Samar to ensure a “secured and fair elections.”
“Our main goal in this campaign is to make sure that it is really the sovereign will of the people that are reflected in the election results and not due to fear, violence and intimidation,” said Chief Superintendent Elmer R. Soria, Eastern Visayas police director.
The PNP defines PAG as a group of two or more persons being used by a certain politician or individual to sow fear or intimidation, possessing legal or illegal firearms to advance political interest.
In Samar, police identified the remaining PAGs as the Moloboco group and the Montealto group. The groups are allegedly funded by members of political clans in power. The province is among the 15 priority election watchlist areas of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
As early as last September, the PNP began moving to dismantle the two PAGs.
On Sept. 22, police arrested Rely Cabogoy, said to be a member of the Moloboco PAG, on the strength of a warrant for murder.
The following day, a team of the Special Group against PAGs, in coordination with the local police, nabbed Nicanor Moloboco, an escapee from the Samar sub-provincial jail in Calbayog City who has a warrant of arrest for murder and robbery in band. He was said to be the leader of the Moloboco PAG.
Early last December, The PNP regional office formed a special task force called the Regional Special Operations Task Group (RSOTG) and headed by Senior Superintendent Edgardo O. Basbas, the PNP-8 deputy regional director for operations.
With Senior Superintendent Eusebio A. Mejos, the Samar provincial police director, assisting Basbas, the task group has been provided troops coming from the Samar provincial command, Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB8) and PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and is based at the Samar Police Provincial Office in Catbalogan City, the capital of Samar.
Then on Dec. 23, Julito C. Aragon, 30, a member of the Moloboco group operating in the first district Samar and listed as the No. 1 most wanted person in Samar with an arrest warrant for two counts of murder, was slain in an encounter with arresting policemen in the hinterland barangay of Peñaplata in Gandara, Samar.
“Instead of surrendering peacefully, Aragon opted to shoot it out with our policemen, prompting the law enforcers to return fire,” Soria said.
The suspect was killed instantly. Police recovered from the suspect a.45 cal. Colt MK IV pistol loaded with six live ammunition.
Two Montealto and one Moloboco PAG members also voluntarily surrendered to RSOTG at the time.
On Jan. 19, when PNP Chief Alan Purisima visited the region, the PNP-8 presented to him 19 PAG members who were said to have recently surrendered to provincial police.
Police said 14 of them belong to Montealto group, including its alleged leader, and five to the Moloboco group.
The Montealto group also turned in five firearms and the Montealto group surrendered four, police said.
According to the PNP regional office, at least 17 members of the Montealto group and 12 members of the Moloboco group are still the subject of police operations by the RSOTG-Samar.
Police are also running after loose firearms, numbering about 4,000 in the region, with nearly 600 supposedly in the hands of the rebel group New People's Army in Eastern Visayas and 3,000 in the possession of criminal elements.
Soria spearheaded the signing on Jan. 13 of a peace covenant by about a hundred candidates for provincial, congressional and city positions at the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Calbayog City.
“Avoid at all cost the use of force, intimidation, fraud and violence, to the advantage of the political interest,” Bishop Isabelo A. Abarquez of the Diocese of Calbayog said during a Mass that preceded the peace covenant signing.
“Those who want to serve the people should not grab power by hurting or killing the people they profess to serve. Killings and other acts of violence have regularly marred our elections,” he told the candidates.
Abarquez also urged the Commission on Elections and its deputies “to expose and neutralize all private armed groups. Unless you do so, the election cannot be honest and peaceful.”
Samar, one of the three provinces in Samar Island, the country's third largest, is composed of 24 towns and two cities with 952 barangays. It has two congressional districts and two cities, Catbalogan City in the second district and Calbayog City in the first district.
The province has been identified as a violence-prone area during election since about three decades ago.
Like in previous elections in the past three decades, Samar has been named as an election hotspot this election year. The province of Samar is the only one in the region to be identified by authorities as such, mainly because of intense political rivalries and a history of poll violence.
(VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)