CSO readies for clean, peaceful elections

LEGAZPI CITY, Oct. 28 (PNA) -- Civil society organizations in the Bicol Region are now preparing for possible pre-election scenarios to ensure that the coming May 2016 polls will be clean and peaceful.

The church-based Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) across the region, for one, has been enjoining volunteers to sign up and get involved in advocating for an honest, orderly and peaceful election in next year's presidential and local electoral process.

In Albay, the the Diocese of Legazpi, through the Diocesan Commission on Social Concerns and Social Action Center, has officially launched the PPCRV Election Operation as it began to map out plans and strategies to check pre-election activities initiated by political candidates.

The PPCRV, the church-based election watchdog, has started to closely coordinate with the Commission on Elections, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) concerning election-related issues.

The issues include the campaign against political rivalries, political armed groups (PAGs), loose firearms, harassment, permit to campaign demanded by communist insurgents and vote-buying.

Albay Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi urged authorities and the PPCRV to beef up the presence of law enforcers in areas believed to be election “hot spots.”

Baylon also asked the PPCRV to launch a voters' education drive aimed at helping voters from the countryside to choose good political leaders.

The PPCRV will be organized in every province, city and town in the region.

The Comelec and the PNP, in past election events, had identified the provinces of Masbate, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte as election areas of concern due to intense political rivalries and the presence of PAGS and New People's Army (NPA) rebels.

Masbate had been consistently been tagged as an election hot spot in previous elections because of the intense political rivalries among clans there, including election-related violence that claimed the lives of hundreds of people.

Based on the list, Masbate has the most number of villages that were placed under Comelec control, with 40 villages in 18 towns.

"The incidence of election-related violence is a 'wake up call' for us to move and be vigilant to advocate for a free, honest and peaceful election," the Masbate Advocate for Peace (MAP) said in a statement released to media.

Igmidio Emilio Camposano, a local trial court judge here and MAP president, said their group, in this early stage, is preparing to map out pre-election scenarios to ensure that the May 2016 elections in the province would be peaceful and orderly.

“We are not taking chances and would not allow our guards to back down so that in this early stage we are preparing,” Camposano said.

In a previous interview with this reporter, he said his worst fear in the upcoming polls is the intense political rivalries that end up to violence, hiring of PAGS, vote-buying and harassment.

“What is scary is when people get indifferent about the election process,” he said.

According to Camposano, PAGs are being used by local politician as an instrument to sow terror and violence and eliminate political leaders to gain political advantage over their rivals. In the previous national and local elections, there were at least six PAGs listed operating in Masbate, of which only two are active -- the Arizobal and Villaruel groups -- with 38 members.

For this reason, Task Force Masbate was created after reports that local politicians here exercise too much influence over the police and sometimes the police are being dictated upon in the conduct of their operations.

The TF Masbate was formed during the previous election to oversee the security operations in the province, tagged by the military and the police as a “hot spot” due to intense political rivalries, presence of PAGs and communist rebels.

During the 2012 national and local elections, the Task Force was able to seize hundreds of loose firearms and encourage political candidates to surrender at least 200 high-powered firearms.(PNA) LAP/PGL/FGS/MSA/CBD