LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 3 (PNA) – The Philippine National Police (PNP) Bicol regional office is now prepared to deploy ahead of the local campaign period two elite battalions in Masbate -- one from the Regional Public Safety Command and another one from the Police Special Action Force.
The two battalions to be deployed, composed of 1,600 policemen, will try their best to ensure that no politically-related violence thrives within the period and the sanctity of ballots protected during the May polls, according to Chief Supt. Augusto M. Marquez Jr., Bicol regional police director.
This developed as the murderous frenzy portraying its brand of politics is once again rocking the Bicol island-province as the May general elections draw near.
Latest to fall were three persons, including two barangay officials in San Jacinto -- one of the four municipalities of Ticao Island covered by the province’s first congressional district, who were gunned down by still unidentified suspects over the weekend.
The Bicol regional police headquarters here on Tuesday identified the slain village officials as barangay captain Rey Ecabo, his councilman Robert Almodiel and Almodiel's 14-year-old nephew.
A sketchy report received from the Masbate Police Provincial Office headed by newly installed Senior Supt. Alexander Sampaga said the shooting incident took place inside the residence of Ecabo in Barangay Bartolabac early Saturday evening.
Sampaga assumed the top PNP provincial post last Jan. 15 with a tall order: cleanse the province of armed political goons and shield Masbateños from the raging local political climate by way of giving the best of public service the local police force could offer in reintroducing peace and order in every locality.
But it seems that his early days as PNP officer-in-charge of the province make his hands full of murder cases to attend to, as in Ticao Island alone, at least two incidents preceded the triple murders.
Last Jan. 20, police records show, Jason Escorel, 43, of Barangay Jagna-an, San Jacinto was also shot dead a week after the bullet-riddled body of Dennis De la Peña, 38, of Barangay Poblacion, Monreal town, was discovered.
Both cases are yet to be solved but the regional police office said investigations being conducted by municipal police stations are in progress.
Elsewhere in the province, Elmer Sampaga, a Masbate City government employee, died on the spot when gunned down by a still unidentified assassin early evening of last Jan. 22 in Barangay Nursery at the city’s downtown while on his way home.
Investigators believe that the killing was politically motivated as the victim openly supported a local candidate.
Last Jan. 16, barangay captain Jonathan Sullera of Cabangcalan, Placer, Masbate was shot dead early morning in front of his house by a lone gunman armed with a cal. 45 pistol.
These are only a few of the latest bloody incidents believed to be motivated by intense rivalries among political camps that claimed the lives of not only a few local personalities and tainted with bloodshed the image of the province, which is rich in cattle ranches, that wears the moniker “Marlboro Country”, being the land of cowboys as in the Wild West.
“We are not new to these killings, especially when election seasons comes, even as peace and order and security authorities have been doing their best to reverse this culture of violence that the province has been known for since time immemorial,” Efren Cardiño, a retired police officer who is native of the island and now residing in this city, said.
For so long a time, Masbate elections have been decided not by ballots but by guns, goons and gold (3Gs) no matter how peace-loving Masbateños seek to put an end to this with the extensive support they have been realizing not only from fellows but also from people and institutions outside the province, Cardiño said.
He recalled as worth musing in this case the lines delivered by the late Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse M. Robredo when he was guest speaker in a Masbate City school graduation ceremonies months before his death.
In his speech, Robredo said as recalled by Cardiño: “Prosperity has eluded Masbate over the years. In lieu of it has been the vicious cycle of violence and bloodshed that has placed the province on the Comelec's list of electoral hotspots for decades. Mayors, congressmen, councilors, barangay chairs, traders, teachers, and police officers have been murdered in cold blood in broad daylight.”
Masbate has been dominated by powerful families for as long as anyone can remember and patronage and murder have become accepted facts of political life.
In that occasion that took place about five months before his death in a plane accident, incidentally off the shoreline of the same city, Robredo, however, pointed out that in spite of the image of Masbate as a province torn by political violence, the government has been doing all it can to improve the social and economic well-being of Masbateños to liberate them from poverty, according to Cardiño.
The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), in its latest estimate, says, Masbate has a poverty incidence of 42.5 percent -- making the province the poorest in the country.
“Nonetheless, we, Masbateños, should also do our share, and one way to do this is for us to continue seeking and doing things to end these social maladies,” the retired policeman stressed. (PNA) FPV/FGS/DOC/CBD