LEGAZPI CITY, Jan. 23 (PNA) -- At least seven people have been arrested by policemen for carrying handguns since the beginning of the election period while 15 firearms, mostly pistols, have been either confiscated by or voluntarily surrendered to various Philippine National Police (PNP) units in three Bicol provinces, a top PNP official in the region said Saturday.
Chief Supt. Augusto Marquez Jr., PNP Bicol regional director, quoting field reports, said the firearms came from individuals that passed through the Commission on Elections-PNP checkpoints in the provinces of Camarines Sur, Sorsogon and Masbate.
Marquez said that aside from the seized firearms during the period from Jan. 10 to date, the PNP Bicol also recorded six shooting incidents that mostly took place in Masbate.
He said the Comelec-PNP Joint Security Control Center (JSCC) was yet to validate if the incidents were election related.
The PNP official said units across the Bicol were stepping up their campaign against the carrying of firearms, ammunition and bladed weapons in compliance with the Omnibus Election Code during the election period that would end on May 9.
During this period, at least 10 firearms were either surrendered or turned over for safekeeping, she added.
Marquez said that at the start of the election period on Jan. 10, the PNP was able to set up 202 Comelec checkpoints in the entire region, with 1,515 policemen manning them.
He said the gun ban included those firearms with issued permits to possess or to carry outside their residences, “unless they are authorized by the commission through the Committee on the Ban of Firearms and Security.”
Meanwhile, Police Director Gen. Victor P. Deona, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief, on his visit here on Friday, directed his unit in Bicol to intensify its campaign against Private Armed Groups (PAGS) reportedly operating in some provinces in Bicol, specifically Masbate and another province which he begged off to name as of press time.
In the previous national and local elections, there were at least six PAGs listed as operating in Masbate, of which only two are active -- the Arizobal and Villaruel groups with 38 members.
Deona said that when he was the task group commander of TF Masbate during the 2012 national and local elections, the Task Force was able to seize hundreds of loose firearms and encouraged political candidates to surrender at least 200 high-powered firearms.
As this developed, Marquez said the PNP-Bicol still awaited for the green light from its central command for the deployment of two elite police battalions in Masbate, one from the Regional Public Safety Command and another one from the Police Special Action Force.
The deployment of the two battalions, numbering 1,600 policemen, would ensure that politically-related violence would not thrive during the campaign period for the May polls.
The deployment of policemen is in response to the reactivation of Task Force Masbate headed by Sr. Supt. Lito Pitallano, the concurrent Deputy Director for Operations, with Sr. Insp. Art Gomez serving as Task Force spokesperson.
The TF Masbate was formed during the previous elections to oversee the security operations in the province tagged by military and police as a “hot spot” area due to intense political rivalries and the presence of PAGS and communist rebels.
Masbate has been consistently been tagged as an election hot spot in previous elections because of the intense political rivalries among clans, including election-related violence that has claimed the lives of hundreds of people.
In past election events, the Comelec-PNP had identified the provinces of Masbate, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte as election areas of concern due to intense political rivalries as well as presence PAGS and New People Army (NPA) rebels.
Based on the list, Masbate has the most number of villages that were placed under Comelec control, with 40 villages in 18 towns.(PNA) RMA/FGS/MSA/CBD/pjn