LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 17 (PNA) -- Local candidates in Masbate agreed to sign a peace covenant for a safe and free election during a dialogue with officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Tuesday in Masbate City, a PNP official said.
The peace pact signing among the local candidates from gubernatorial, congressional and mayoral posts as well as the AFP, PNP and Commission on Elections (Comelec) will be held on Feb. 26, according to Police Chief Insp. Arthur Gomez, spokesperson of the Regional Special Police Operation Task Group (RSPOTG) Masbate.
Expected to witness the covenant signing are Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez and AFP Southern Luzon (Solcom) commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya.
As this developed, Gomez said in a phone interview that the RSPOTG will intensify its campaign against loose firearms, with a directive to the 21 town chiefs of police to confiscate at least two undocumented firearms in every village under their jurisdiction.
There are 550 villages in the island-province of Masbate.
Gomez said at least 20 firearms have been seized since the RSOTG started operations last Feb. 3.
He further said they are keeping track of two private armed groups hired by local politicians in the second district of the province, which covers the towns of Cataingan, Balud, Esperanza, Cawayan and Mandaon.
Joint police and military units in Masbate also launched on Tuesday the Safe and Fair Elections (SAFE) drive aimed to address security concerns for a peaceful election during the upcoming May 9 national and local polls.
During the Tuesday dialogue, among the security concerns that were brought out was that only authorized personnel from the AFP and PNP will give security to a candidate and no private bodyguards will be allowed to be assigned to a candidate.
Visaya said the Solcom will be strict in the assignment of military personnel to be used as security personnel of a political candidate.
“Every soldier must at all times be on a non-partisan stance,” the Solcom chief said as he also assured participants of the dialogue that the command will use all its resources to ensure that the May polls in the province would be peaceful and orderly.
Attending the Tuesday dialogue were Masbate Gov. Vincent Revil, former governor Antonio Kho and his wife Rep. Olga Kho of the 2nd District, town mayors Narciso Bravo of San Fernando, Natividad Revil of Milagros and Romeo Dela Rosa of Baleno.
Visaya and Chief Supt. Augusto Marquez Jr., PNP Bicol regional director, reactivated the Joint Masbate Task Force to be headed by Police Senior Supt. Lito Pitallano and Army Col. Samuel Felipe.
It is a three-cornered fight for the gubernatorial post in Masbate --- expelled Masbate Rizalina Seachon-Lanete of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Antonio Kho and Bravo, who is running under the National Unity Party (NUP).(PNA) FFC/FGS/MSA/cbd