Enforcement of state of emergency sought in Maguindanao

John Unson - Philstar.com

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Local officials want the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to enforce during the campaign period the unrevoked state of emergency (SOE) in the province which Malacañang imposed after the  Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre incident.

Political leaders, among them Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, were present during Wednesday’s provincial security conference in Buluan town. According to him, the SOE which has not been lifted since, will give the Comelec leverage in preventing candidates for local posts from carrying guns as they move around.

Maguindanao’s election supervisor, lawyer Udtog Tago, said they will closely monitor, with the help of the police and the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), the movements of politicians and their escorts after next week’s filing of certificates of candidacy.

A senior member of the provincial board, Bobby Katambak, who is a practicing lawyer, said the still valid SOE empowers authorities to disarm politicians and their supporters displaying guns without any legitimate exemption from the gun ban Comelec is to enforce.

The 2009 SOE in Maguindanao was declared by President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo.

“As far as I know the SOE was never rescinded via another declaration until the term of President Arroyo ended in 2010. President Benigno Aquino III has not lifted it either,” Katambak said.

The enforcement of the SOE was initiated to hasten the restoration of normalcy in the province after the Maguindanao massacre, a politically-motivated attack by partisans that left 58 people dead, among them Mangudadatu’s spouse, Genalyn, and 32 journalists.

The victims were on their way to the old provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak to file for Mangudadatu, then vice mayor of Buluan, his certificate of candidacy for governor in the 2010 elections. Gunmen intercepted their convoy, herded into a hill about two kilometers away, where they were killed with machine guns and assault rifles.

Political clans in Maguindanao and other provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) keep arsenals of military-type assault rifles, shoulder-fire grenade launchers and M60 and K3 machineguns as status symbols and as protection from adversaries.

The SOE covers parts of Sultan Kudarat province and all of the 37 barangays in Cotabato City.

Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of 6th ID, and Senior Superintendent Nickson Muksan of the Maguindanao provincial police, said they are just waiting for Comelec’s directive for them to begin enforcing the gun ban in all of Maguindanao’s 36 towns.

Pangilinan said they will also conduct prior dialogues, among commanders of 6th ID’s component-units in Maguindanao, on how to impose the restrictions on carrying of guns which soldiers are to implement under the supervision of the Comelec.  

“We must do everything to prevent unauthorized carrying of firearms for the whole duration of the election period,” Mangudadatu told reporters present in Wednesday’s conference in Buluan municipality.

Local officials said it is also essential to involve the joint ceasefire committee of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in restraining guerilla forces from roaming with their firearms during the period.

Pangilinan and Mangudadatu had agreed to expedite the resolution of clan wars involving big political groups in the next six months to ensure clean and peaceful elections in the province in May 2016.

The 6th ID and the provincial government had settled 39 bloody clan wars in the past four years, facilitated with diyyah (blood money) Mangudadatu paid to the families of fatalities in the conflicts.

Miriam Kawit, superintendent of public schools in the 2nd district of Maguindanao, said teachers who are to perform election duties next year also deserve utmost protection from the police and military.

“We are so vulnerable to the ire of supporters of candidates whenever we enforce election laws inside polling precincts. Candidates are less scary. It’s their supporters who are always hostile to teachers,” Kawit said.

A teacher-in-charge and a district supervisor in two different towns were killed in separate attacks in the province during the 2013 election period.

While there are no conclusive police records indicating that the incidents were election-related, most officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) in the province are certain the victims were killed by partisans.

Kawit said many of her subordinate-teachers might not serve during next year’s elections owing to their relationship, either by blood or affinity, to aspirants for elective positions in the municipalities where they work.

“We also want soldiers and policemen to stay at the doors of the polling precincts during actual voting exercises to effectively restrain unruly supporters of candidates,” Kawit said.

Pangilinan said all of 6th ID’s component brigades and battalions scattered in Maguindanao are ready to impose election security measures as soon as ordered by the Comelec.

Pangilinan said there is also a need to re-educate local officials on the intricacies of the SOE in the entire province.

Mangudadatu has ordered his constituent-mayors to convene the municipal peace and order councils in their respective municipalities and formulate security plans needed to boost the law enforcement activities of the Comelec.



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