MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine National Police on Monday placed its 148,000-strong force on full alert, a week ahead of the May 13 elections amid an upsurge of political violence.
On Monday morning, gunmen ambushed a vehicle in Lemery town in Iloilo, killing John Apura, 45, husband of reelectionist Mayor Ligaya Apura, and his driver. Another aide was wounded in the incident outside Iloilo City, according to police authorities.
In Lamitan City, Basilan, four political workers of Mayor Roderick Furigay were wounded Sunday night when an improvised bomb was thrown at the gate of his house, Furigay told the Inquirer on Monday.
The PNP said 58 election-related incidents since Jan. 13 had left 35 people dead and 34 wounded.
PNP Director General Alan Purisima canceled police vacation leaves to ensure maximum troop deployment.
In a news briefing, Chief Supt. Miguel Antonio, deputy chief of the PNP Task Force SAFE (Secure and Fair Elections), said Purisima’s order would ensure that all police personnel would be available to perform election duties.
“Lawyers will also be deployed to help enlighten policemen on issues regarding their election duties,” Antonio said. “The PNP will set up security assistance desks to assist the public not only on security matters, but also in providing them with basic information.”
Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr. said the full alert, equivalent to red alert in the military, would remain in effect “until after election security operations had been completed.”
“Police regional directors were given the authority to extend the effectivity of the full alert status depending on the prevailing situation in their areas of responsibility,” said Cerbo, the PNP spokesperson.
As part of its security preparations, the PNP had brokered 1,355 peace covenants signed by 5,024 political leaders as a “preemptive action” against election-related violence, Antonio said. He said the police had conducted a media information campaign to ensure that the balloting would be “fair and credible.”
PNP Director Lina Sarmiento said 989 PNP personnel had been assigned to provide security to candidates.
She reminded policemen that they should stay 50 meters away from the polling precincts on Election Day as prescribed by the law.
“Policemen who will enter the polling precincts should first secure a clearance from the BEI (Board of Election Inspectors),” Sarmiento said.
“We assure the public that we will do everything to secure the sanctity of their votes,” she said.
In Monday’s incident in Lemery, the town’s police chief, Insp. Asension Orizo, said John Apura was pronounced dead at the Sara District Hospital, where the ambush victims were taken. The other fatality was identified as Apura’s driver Rodel Lope and the wounded as Joselito Calvez. The victims had multiple bullet wounds.
Ortizo said the assailants opened fire at the victims in their vehicle around 8:30 a.m. at Barangay Anabo in Lemery, 69 kilometers northeast of Iloilo City.
Three to five persons were believed to be involved in the ambush, said Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr., Western Visayas police director. A suspect in the ambush, identified as Mario Cobarubias, was arrested hours later in a nearby sugarcane field. The suspect, a resident of Dumarao town in Capiz, was armed with an M14 rifle and two grenades. Cruz said Cobarubias was a suspect in another murder case.
“The people of Lemery and not only my family are crying for justice,” Mayor Ligaya Apura told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
The mayor is seeking reelection under the United Nationalist Alliance. She is running against Lowel Arban of the Liberal Party and independent Vicente Inion.
“I may be the candidate but my husband was my main campaigner. He has no enemies,” the mayor said.
Lemery is among the 40 areas in Western Visayas under the watchlist of the Commission on Election and the PNP. The PNP has reinforced the police force there.
Lamitan City Mayor Roderick Furigay said he was meeting with his political workers when the bomb attack took place Sunday night.
“It was like a pillbox explosion. Two of my four coordinators are in critical condition. Maybe some debris hit my coordinators who were near the place where the bomb fell,” Furigay said. “It had something to do with politics but I don’t want to name names this time,” he said.
Wounded were Melvin Tinguha, 22, Jay Ar Ferrer, 29, Christopher Umbac, 30, and Joemar Ignacio, 20.
The third-termer Furigay is running for vice mayor of Lamitan City under the Liberal Party. His wife, Rose, is seeking to replace him in next week’s polling.
In Buenavista town in Bohol, police said a militiaman, Ruel Torregosa, was killed in an ambush at 11:30 p.m. Saturday in front of the house of mayoral candidate Alfonso del Rosario Jr. Another militiaman, Auzardi Garcia, was wounded.
Bohol provincial election supervisor Lionel Castillano said Monday that the police were still trying to convince a witness to the killing to identify the suspects.
Buenavista is on the Comelec hotspot list because of the intense rivalry between the LP’s Del Rosario and incumbent Mayor Ronald Tirol of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.—With reports from Nestor P. Burgos and Charisse Ursal, Inquirer Visayas, and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao.