Masbate now under close police watch, says Verzosa

January 20, 2010 10:46 pm 

MANILA, Jan. 20 –- Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Jesus Verzosa on Wednesday placed Masbate under special police watch until the end of the election period to ensure honest, peaceful and orderly elections in the island province where election-related violence were recorded during the previous polls.

In Letter of Instruction 03/10, Verzosa ordered the creation of Special Task Force (STF) “Masbate,” the main unit responsible for the maintenance of peace and order and overseer of all law enforcement and security operations in the province, in close coordination, mutual support and cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other law enforcement agencies in the area.

“It is vital that we (PNP) maintain a strong presence in the province of Masbate through the Special Task Force to effectively carry out law enforcement and security operations during the election period, and, more importantly, to break the cycle of election violence, intimidation and political killings in the province,” Verzosa said.

Masbate, despite being one of the poorest provinces in the country, is one of the deadliest and most dangerous places during elections as local positions are bitterly contested, making the province a perennial part in the Election Watch List of Areas (EWAs), a two-category listings of places (province, cities or towns) of concern as assessed and classified by the PNP and AFP based on reported violent incidents in past elections.

STF “Masbate” will be headed by Senior Supt. Marcelo Garbo, the newly-designated executive officer of the Directorate for Operations with the Masbate provincial director, Senior Supt. Ed Benigay, as deputy commander.

STF “Masbate” will have an augmentation force of 100 men of the elite PNP Special Action Force and another company from the Public Safety Management unit from PRO 5, to assist in the operations of the various police offices and stations in the province.

On Thursday, Verzosa and members of the Zenarosa Commission, the independent commission created by Malacanang to investigate and dismantle partisan armed groups in the country, will visit Masbate province, where they will be briefed on the local political history, the prevailing law-enforcement and security situation, including updates on EWAs and PAGs. <They will also inspect the Masbate Provincial Jail where some high-profile prisoners are being held, including suspects in some political murders in the province.

For this year’s elections, the PNP and AFP have identified 15 towns as EWAs out of the province’s 21 local government units (one city and 20 municipalities).

Also, latest intelligence data from the field have confirmed the presence of least three partisan armed groups (PAGs) which are actively operating in Masbate while additional information are being gathered to validate initial reports about the existence of six other PAGs in the island.

The PNP chief will also preside over the Command Conference of the provincial Joint Security Control Center (JSCC), a vital cog in the overall election security operations, responsible for implementing on the ground the nationwide election gun ban through the conduct of Comelec-led check and choke points, as well as enforcing the rule on the number of security details of candidates. The JSCCs also receive complaints regarding the conduct and decorum of police and military personnel during the election period.

According to Verzosa, the PNP may also put other EWAs under the supervision of STFs if election security assessments warrant their inclusion in the special police watch during the election period.

The PNP-AFP had listed at least 558 towns and cities in EWAs to merit priority consideration in terms of law-enforcement and security operation preparations. Field estimates placed the number of PAGs at 170, a bulk of which have yet to be validated to confirm their actual status. (PNA) scs/MM

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