BACOLOD CITY, Philippines - Government troops further strengthened security operations and checkpoints following reports of movements of suspected private armed groups in the 1st, 3rd and 5th districts of Negros Occidental, said Col. Jon Aying, the commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade.
Aying said sightings of alleged private armed groups on motorcycles and other vehicles were reported in San Carlos City, Toboso, Calatrava and Escalante City. The increased activity of government troops in the area started on Friday evening, May 10.
Authorities have observed a tense political situation in Escalante. Armed groups have also been spotted in Silay City in the 3rd district and in the municipality of Moises Padilla in the 5th district.
Guns and goons
A supporter of a Liberal Party (LP) mayoral candidate was gunned down on Friday night in Toboso while Escalante City is the focus of military and police operations in northern Negros due to election-related incidents in the past. A majority of the victims were said to be supporters of political candidates, police records showed.
Aying said members of private armed groups were reported to have been avoiding checkpoints and are also studying movements of state security forces. He added that their operations received assistance from residents who reported the presence of suspected private armed groups in their areas through their community information system.
The Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade has deployed 2,876 soldiers to ensure fair and peaceful elections in Negros Occidental. The area also has 1,767 policemen, who are now deployed in 32 towns and cities in the province.
Aying said there are thousands of loose firearms in Negros Occidental. He added that private armed groups have been linked to politicians. When asked why the groups have not been disbanded, he answered "it’s a matter of building up cases against them."
Thirteen towns and cities, including Escalante, have been included in the election watch list of the PNP in Negros Occidental.
The 62nd and 3rd Civil Military Operations Battalions are helping the local police, including the 6th Regional Public Safety Battalion, elite Special Action Force (SAF) unit, in maintaining peace and order in Escalante City.
Senior Supt. Ricardo de la Paz, officer-in-charge of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, said that they have not monitored any election-related incident, except Toboso, as of this time.
De la Paz said that their main task is to secure polling places, with the elite police Special Action Force acting as a rapid deployment force. On the other hand, he added, the Philippine Army secures the hinterlands.
Police Director and SAF director Carmelo Valmoria and Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, the regional police director of Western Visayas, led a two-day inspection of troops deployed for election duties and visited several polling precints in Negros Occidental.
A Joint Security Control Desk was also set up in every polling center in the province while a Joint Security Control Center has been established in each of the 32 towns and cities to monitor the conduct of elections, said PNP spokesman Chief Inspector Rico Santotome.
The checkpoints, security operations and troop visibility restrict the movements of private armed groups linked to politicians, said Aying. At the same time, they have also received reports of sightings of armed NPA members in the boundary of Kabankalan City and Ilog town. - Rappler.com