Police and military presence will be intensified in 33 towns and cities in Central Visayas which were declared election hot spots.
Nearly half of the number of election watchlist areas (EWAS) in the region are in Cebu province.
The 14 hot spots in Cebu were classified as Category 1 which means the place had previous election-related incidents, said Senior Supt. Paul Labra II, chief of the Regional Intelligence Division of the Police Regional Office (PRO 7).
These include the cities of Bogo, Danao, Carcar and Lapu-Lapu and the towns of Sogod, Barili, San Fernando, Daan Bantayan, Tuburan, Sta. Fe, Ronda, Pinamungajan, Tabogon, and Dumanjug.
“There was a previous related incident in these areas,” Labra said.
The police likewise identified 12 inactive private armed groups in the region that authorities fear will be activated to serve unscrupulous politicians.
Four of the armed groups were based in Cebu, authorities said.
Chief Supt. Marcelo Garbo Jr., PRO 7 director, police and military presence in the hot spot areas will be doubled and further reinforced depending on their assessment.
Timie Lambino, regional director of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), said all police personnel serving as security detail for politicians will be recalled starting January 13, the start of the election period and the election gun ban.
The move to recall police security escorts is based on a resolution issued by the Comelec (see related story on page 2).
However, Lambino said incumbent officials or candidates can hire private bodyguards who were trained by the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“If they want to have bodyguards, local candidates may go to the PNP and fill up forms and apply. It is the PNP who will assess if they need bodyguards,” he said.
The Comelec, the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will form a committee that will evaluate election-related security issues.
Supt. Labra said 15 areas in Negros Oriental were declared as hot spots due to the presence of communist guerrillas.
These include Bayawan City, Canlaon City, Tanjay City, Jimalalud, Bacong, La Libertad, Zamboanguita, Vallehermoso, Guihulngan City, Bindoy, Pamplona, Sibulan, Valencia, Siaton, and Sta. Catalina.
In Bohol, the election watchlist areas were Tagbilaran City and the towns of Trinidad and Carmen while Larena is the single area under watch in Siquijor.
Labra said the police are closely watching inactive armed groups and are under orders to “neutralize” them.
He didn’t elaborate on what “neutralize” meant.
Labra identified the Cebu-based groups as Sigue which is said to operate in Balamban, Toledo City and Naga city; the Omboy-Sanopad Group which allegedly operates in southern Cebu; the Sumabong Ancero Group which operates in Bogo City and Sidlak group which operates in barangay Punta Engaño and other neighboring barangays in Lapu-Lapu City. /REPORTER Jucell Marie P. Cuyos, Correspondents Gabriel C. Bonjoc and Chito Aragon