Comelec mulls over taking control of Davao del Sur

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DIGOS CITY, Philippines—The Commission on Elections said it was considering placing Davao del Sur under its control in light of mounting tensions brought about by intense rivalry among politicians who have been involved in previous incidents of election-related violence, a local Comelec official said.

The volatile political situation in Davao del Sur had earlier led the police and the military to deploy nearly half of the 10,000 troopers  they had intended to assign to peace-keeping duty throughout Southern Mindanao in Davao del Sur alone.

Davao del Sur is the Comelec’s lone area of concern in connection with the May 13 elections among the four provinces that make up Southern Mindanao.

Edgardo Sadili, Davao del Sur assistant provincial election supervisor, said a final conference among the Comelec, the police and the military will be held prior to election day to determine if placing Davao del Sur under the election body’s control was necessary.

“A meeting of the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Council will be called prior to Monday’s election. The JPSCC will determine if there is  a need to upgrade the hot spot status into full Comelec control,” he said.

Sadili issued the statement in the wake of a report from the Digos City police that armed men had tried but failed to snatch the father of re-electionist Digos Mayor Joseph Peñas on Tuesday.

Superintendent Allan Manibog, Digos police director, said Bernardino Peñas, 93, was inside his house on Cabrillos Street when two men on a motorcycle arrived around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and told the elder Peñas they wanted to ask for Abante political party t-shirts as they were supporters of Mayor Peñas.

Manibog said witnesses, including a cousin of the mayor’s and neighbors of the elder Peñas, told police investigators the executive’s father told the men he was not involved in the distribution of Abante t-shirts and that he did not have any in his house.

“The men then allegedly asked the old man to accompany them to where the t-shirts might be available and tried to enter the house,” Manibog said.

He said a cousin of the mayor noticed a bulge in the men’s waists that appeared to be due to guns and immediately called for help. The elder Peñas’ neighbors, alarmed by the commotion, rushed to his house, prompting the armed men to flee, Manibog added.

He said the police were still investigating the incident.

During the 2007 elections, Malita town mayoral candidate Isidro Sarmiento and his son, board member-candidate Danilo, were killed by men identified with former Davao del Sur Representative Claude Bautista. Bautista was then running against Representative Douglas Cagas in the gubernatorial race.

The Sarmientos were both Cagas allies.

Meanwhile, the Inquirer learned that Davao del Sur Govrnor Douglas Cagas, Peñas’ rival in the Digos City mayoral race; his son, Marc, who has joined the gubernatorial race against his father’s traditional rival Claude Bautista; and his wife, Mercedes, who is running in the first district congressional race, had declined to sign a peace covenant that the Diocese of Digos initiated with the Comelec.

Sadili confirmed that some politicians, including the Cagases, had skipped the recent covenant signing.

“We asked every candidate to sign the covenant but they declined for still unknown reasons,” he said. With a report from Judy Quiros, Inquirer Mindanao

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