Four white doves and dozens of white balloons flew as thousands of people, including students, government and private employees, and even politicians and candidates took to the main streets of Masbate City on Saturday, bearing placards calling for peaceful and orderly polls in a province infamously known for its history of election-related violence.
The participants wore white shirts in the event dubbed “Walk for Hope” to break away from colors associated with political clans. Orange is identified with the Lanetes while green is with the Tuasons, who are in a loose alliance with the Khos, the political rivals of the Lanetes.
Organized by the Masbate Advocates for Peace (MAP), a Church-led group seeking to end political violence in the province, the walk ended at the Magallanes Coliseum, where a peace covenant appealing to politicians and candidates to rebuff guns, goons and gold in the upcoming elections was signed.
Reelectionist Governor Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and her son, Representative Scott Davies Lanete (third district), and former Gov. Elisa Olga Kho signed the document. Kho is the wife of gubernatorial candidate and last-term Rep. Antonio Kho (second district), who was a no-show.
Among the guests who joined the march were Henrietta de Villa, national chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, a nongovernment election watchdog; Masbate Bishop Jose Bantolo; MAP President Judge Igmedio Emilio Camposano; and Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
De Villa could have inadvertently confirmed the situation in Masbate—long considered an electoral hot spot by the Commission on Elections—after asking the crowd at the coliseum for a response to her query.
“Do you have private armed groups here? Do you have loose (unlicensed) firearms here? Do you have election-related killings? Do you have heated fights?” she said.
She got a resounding “Yes!” to all questions amid cheers and laughter. The people were taking digs at the current situation in the province.
Wild, Wild West
De Villa got an even wilder cheer when she asked them to drop all candidates “with blood on their hands” and who committed graft and corruption.
In his address, Casiple invoked the ideals of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo who he said had seen the potential of a Masbate hampered by political violence. “Masbate should not be Wild, Wild West any more. As Jesse Robredo said, we could have elections without violence,” he said.
Governor Lanete said in an interview with the Inquirer that peace could only be attained if politicians and the people would take things by heart and not through “lip service.”
Her son said the event was an inspiration and an opportunity for growth.
In a press conference held earlier, Senior Supt. Arnold Albis, commander of Special Task Force Masbate, confirmed that the killing of Edwin Amaron, barangay chief of Luy-a in Aroroy town, was election-related. Amaro was running for a seat in the municipal council of Aroroy under the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the party of Lanete.
Senior Superintendent Heriberto Olitoquit, provincial police director, said Masbate has always been on the list of election hot spots because of the inefficient justice system, which, he added, seemingly forget election-related killings after the polls.
Chief Supt. Clarence Guinto, Bicol police director, also lamented the release of the Arizobal brothers, who were suspected to be members of an armed group operating in the third district. “The fiscal said there was no sufficient evidence to pin them (Arizobals) down,” Guinto said.
Deputy Director General for Operations Ager Ontog, who represented Philippine National Police Chief, Director General Alan Purisima, said the province would not be removed from the “high-risk” areas as long as the indicators exist.