Masbate shooting worries PNP, COMELEC

Return of election violence feared after failed assassination attempt

CAMP OLA, LEGAZPI CITY (11 December) - AFTER TWO GUNMEN attempted to assassinate a provincial board-member in Kalipay, Masbate City last December 7, the PNP regional office in Bikol and COMELEC have expressed concern that the shooting incident  may again be a prelude to the traditional culture of violence during elections in this island-province.

Still, PNP Bicol director Police Chief Supt. Ruben Enoza Padua, told newsmen in a conference here "that the media should not be conclusive" about the shooting of incumbent Masbate 3rd district board member Jesus Lim Chu as election-related since a thorough investigation is yet to be conducted.

Nonetheless, PNP Bicol spokesman Police Supt. Eliciar Bron stated that Masbate remains "an area of immediate concern" in the coming 2010 Presidential and Local Elections, with previous intelligence reports from Camp Crame revealing an estimated 3,000 loose firearms still to be accounted in the island-province.

Bron said this has alarmed the PNP regional command which has only about 500 police personnel in Masbate and hence, a comparative ratio of only 1/3 of the police force against the number of loose firearms of varied high-power calibre.

During the 2007 Elections, violence in Masbate was partly attributed to skirmishes with communist rebels; however, election related violence was also traced to the involvement of  private armed groups or "PAGs" organized by political clans in the island, Bron said.

The PNP headquarters also reported that with Masbate's mounting registered voters, now at 437,860 in three political districts, 21 of the municipalities are in the critical "watch list" of the PNP once the election period begins.

On the other hand, Bron said Crame's intelligence reports on Masbate will have to be validated by the PNP RECOM-5 as the election period nears.

Bron noted that with the COMELEC's deputization of the PNP, a standing directive from the Chief PNP is regarding the police's major role of dismantling existing private armed groups by any politician in Bikol.

Based on Camp Crame records, Masbate is among areas in the country like Abra in the Ilocos region, Western Samar, Nueva Ecija, and Mindanao where political clans have used "PAGs" during elections.

Bron added that while loose firearms in Masbate will always be the force behind the existence of "PAGs" in the locality, the culture of fear due to the power of the gun and the prevailing poverty in the grass-roots have drawn men to be employed as private armies by political clans.

Meanwhile, COMELEC Bicol election director Zacarias Zaragoza Jr. said the shooting of Chu in Masbate City has again alerted COMELEC of possible violence in the coming polls; Masbate has been under "COMELEC Control" in the 2007 polls.

He added that while LAKAS-KAMPI remains as the ruling party in the island, reports from the field disclosed new political alignments occurring among leaders of Masbate's political clans like Congressman Antonio Kho and those of the Espinosa clan.

Zaragosa also noted said that traditionally "it is the ranks of political supporters who are allegedly breeding violence during the election campaign."