Comelec says vote buying, illegal guns are concerns for Cordillera
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Despite complaints of vote buying and the recent seizure of unlicensed firearms in Abra, Cordillera provinces remain secure for the May 13 elections, the Commission on Elections here said.
The Comelec and the police are monitoring 26 villages that have histories of election-related violence, and 134 villages where the presence of communist rebels has been documented.
Speaking at a news conference, lawyer Jose Nick Mendros, acting Comelec director in the Cordillera, said he was satisfied by the progress which police made in confiscating firearms from politicians and residents who did not surrender or muzzle their weapons at the start of the election gun ban in January.
Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong, Cordillera police director, said police confiscated 53 firearms from January to April, 24 of these from Abra, one of the 15 provinces listed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government as areas of concern.
Magalong said they have asked the courts to issue warrants to allow the police access to the property of gun owners. He said 33 people have been charged with violating the election gun ban.
Police also observed that some of the candidates in the upland provinces used to be former members of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, which started disarming last year, but they would not be allowed to carry firearms during the campaign.
Mendros said the police also kept him updated about dialogues they had organized to allow rival politicians to thresh out their differences before the polls.
Police held these dialogues in Abra and Kalinga to help ease tension in these areas in the runup to the May 13 elections.
Mendros said Comelec is investigating two Abra candidates for vote buying, based on a complaint filed on April 9 by Magalong.
The police gathered testimonies from families that were offered between P1,500 and P3,000 to support the candidates. The vote buying is not concealed and has become “so brazen,” Magalong told reporters.
Two gun battles with suspected communist rebels also broke out this month, leading to the death of three policemen on April 5 in Asipulo, Ifugao, and the wounding of a soldier on April 7 in Pinukpuk, Kalinga.
Magalong said policemen were sent to track down rebels who allegedly harassed Ifugao residents, but operational lapses led to a gunfight in Sitio Nangkatingey in Barangay Namal in Asipulo that killed Insp. George Lauro, PO2 Jody Lino Mamgue and PO2 John Codod.
The victims were part of a team from the Cordillera police’s public safety battalion and the Benguet and Ifugao police.