Masbate candidates ink peace accord
by EA Delgado
Masbate City (13 April) -- A peace pact was signed Tuesday, April 10, for this troubled island province following a series of ambuscades and shootouts which has claimed five lives, mostly followers of candidates in the May 14 local elections.
The peace pact, which aims to avert what could be the bloodiest local elections in the history of this otherwise peaceful province of Bicol, was signed at the end of the first candidates' forum initiated by Catholic Bishop Joel Z. Baylon of Masbate.
Top military and police officials, led by Brig. Gen. Arsenio Arugay, commader of the AFP Southern Luzon command, and Police Sr. Sup't Cecilio Calleja, PNP Bicol deputy regional director for operations, attested to the "covenant of peace" signed by the political leaders of the province.
The spate of killings in the province began at the start of the campaign for lucrative local seats and has affected the political groups in the province of Governor Antonio T. Kho and House Deputy Speaker Emilio Espinosa Jr.
Priest Leo Casas, executive director of Social Action Center of the Diocese of Masbate, said the signing of the covenant for peace was a sign of good faith among political leaders in the province.
Municipal Judge Igmedio Emilio F. Camposano, head of Masbate Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said that with the peace agreement, an important step has been taken to diffuse the tension in Masbate.
Indeed, no sparks flew at the forum for candidates belonging to rival political camps of Kho and Espinosa.
The only memorable part of the well-attended event held at the Magallanes Coliseum here was the stinging homily at the opening by Bishop Baylon.
Baylon jolted most of the politicians when he said: "Our people long to see real change in the way government is run in Masbate."
"I've been to almost every barrio of this province, and I know for a fact that our people live and die poor," said he, referring to the reputation of Masbate as the country's second poorest province.
"While some of you my dear candidates have acquired vast tracts of land for your own personal and private enterprise, many of our farmers do not possess the small piece of land that they or their parents before them have been tilling for years," he added.
Baylon also cited the propensity for gambling in the province by asking: "Do I exaggerate my dear candidates if I say that there are more cockpits all over the province than there are health centers in our towns and villages?"
Referring to local political leaders who employ private armies to win past and present elections, he asked: "Why does it have to be that politics in Masbate should always mean people gunning down people?"
He also urged officials who handled funds from the national government or obtained huge loans to render report of expenses before the people.
Baylon said the winners of the May 14 elections for local seats should show "sincerity" in tackling poverty, violence, and transparency in official dealings.
The PPCRV and Social Action Center of the Diocese of Masbate remained keen on holding two more forum for the candidates in the first and second congressional districts.
The next forum will be held on April 16, Monday, in Dimasalang town and on May 5, Saturday, in San Jacinto town. (PIA Masbate) [top]