PNP keeps close watch on Masbate as commandos go after private armies
by EA Delgado
Masbate City (3 February) -- The Philippine National Police (PNP) took the first step toward blunting the violent nature of powerful politicians in Masbate by creating a task force to oversee the security operations in the province.
The creation of "Special Task Force Masbate," headed by the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Southern Luzon chief, C/Supt. Perfecto Palad, effectively placed this pistol-shaped island province under "special police watch."
PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa, who convened two weeks ago the police-led Joint Security Coordinating Center (JSCC) at the police provincial headquarters here, said the task force has 100 specially trained commandos of the PNP Special Action Force aside from the 30 personnel from the police regional headquarters in Legazpi City.
To insulate them from politics, the commandos will directly report to Palad.
"Masbateņos expect much from the task force," said Jessie Parion, publisher of a local tabloid. "Many are hopeful that the commandos can go after members of private armies without pressure from politicians."
Verzosa directed Palad to coordinate all security plans to disband four identified private armies of local politicians who were believed behind many of the killings in the province.
He said the PNP was still validating the existence of eight more non-state forces in the province.
All but five of Masbate's 20 towns have been declared by the PNP as "hot spots."
To thwart elected officials from using the towns' police forces in their campaign, police chiefs in the province were revamped last week, the first in a series in the run-up to the Election Day.
It was widely believed here that politicians exercised too much influence over the police and that they dictated the conduct of police operations.
The PNP chief said additional mobile checkpoints will be set up across the province to disarm unauthorized gun holders.
"It is vital (for us to) maintain a strong presence in Masbate?to break the cycle of election violence in the province," Verzosa said.
Indeed, dozens of people, including the vice mayors of Milagros and Dimasalang and a provincial board member running for vice mayor of Uson, were already killed in recent months in the name of politics. These murders are feared to be the only first of many killings ahead of the local elections in May, when Rep. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and Governor Elisa Kho, the espouse of her arch rival, Rep. Antonio Kho, face off in the gubernatorial race.
Political warlords, who are well known to employ private armies that carry out assassinations and counterattacks against their rivals, have for generations competed for political power and the accompanying business riches that government posts in poverty-stricken Masbate offer.
Aside from being a hotbed of communist insurgency, Masbate has been economically stunted by the deadly feud over the control of the local governments and three congressional seats. (PIA Masbate) [top]