MASBATE CITY, March 7 (PNA) -- Mary Jean Bayot, a senior student of the Osmeña Colleges here, said she was lucky and glad to have witnessed the signing of the peace covenant among local candidates in the province of Masbate for the May 9 elections.
Like any other peace-loving Masbateños, especially the youth, Bayot has long dreamed of non-violence in their island-province, especially during elections.
"I hope every local candidate should have participated in this noble exercise, otherwise it would be a waste of time," she told the Philippines News Agency as she watched the candidates wrote their signatures on the 3' x 5' tarpaulin in front of the Philippine National Police-Masbate chapel inside Camp Boni Serrano here where some 100 Masbateños and guests were in attendance despite the presence of intermittent showers.
Judge Igmidio Camposano, Masbate Advocates for Peace (MAP) chairperson, who was also present at the covenant signing as one its proponents, said the exercise had become a ritual every time there was an election but, he said, "Let's give them (the candidates) the benefit of the doubt."
Camposano said that although the covenant had become a ritual, the MAP was not sitting down.
"We will continue what we have started,” he said.
He expressed disappointment over a national TV network that covered the election in Masbate in 2013, where it failed to report that no election-related violence happened.
“They would rather report that the province has been listed as a hot spot area,” Camposano said.
The judge said that because of the campaign for a peaceful election and the presence of Task Force Masbate, the 2013 election in the province miraculously attained “zero election violence".
He said the MAP would move to strike out Masbate from the list of hot spot areas in the country.
“We will see to it that Masbate will be a progressive and peaceful place to live in and not relying on battalions of police and soldiers to keep the province safe,” Camposano said with optimism and enthusiasm.
Unlike Bayot and Camposano, however, most local candidates here have expressed reservations on the sincerity of their political rivals despite their signing of an election peace covenant for a safe and free election during the upcoming May 9 polls.
Prominent political personalities were one in expressing their sentiments appreciating the government peace initiative but skeptical on the sincerity of their fellow candidates in complying with what were stipulated in the covenant.
The signed covenant stipulates that the election campaign should be fair, honest and orderly; candidates will not employ political armed groups (PAGS) and engage in vote-buying and dirty political campaign that would sow confusion among the electorate.
Masbate has been considered as an election hot spot for several election periods due to intense political rivalry among political clans, election-related killings and the presence of PAGs and New People’s Army (*NPA) rebels.
Aside from peace and order, other issues confronting the province include poverty, environment (mining, lack of potable water, reclamation) and narco-politics.
Except for former governor Antonio Kho, who is running for the gubernatorial seat, and his wife Rep. Olga Kho, close to 50 political candidates aspiring for various elective positions from the gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral and local legislative posts signed on March 1 a covenant for peace initiated jointly by the Commission on Elections, the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MAP.
Vince Homer Revil, acting Masbate governor and candidate for the province's second congressional district, said in an interview that the peace initiative was a welcome move for a fair and orderly election.
Revil said he hoped that all those who signed the covenant would honor their commitment for a non-violent election exercise, this way, he said, the people would have a free hand in choosing their leaders without fear and favor.
“I have already received four death threats from my political rivals and at present, my district has the most number of election-related violent incidents,” he said.
Revil, however, said he did not believe in employing PAGs as he was hopeful that the presence of the Joint Task Force Masbate would deter and prevent violence in the province.
Narciso "Bong" Bravo, incumbent San Fernando town mayor and candidate for governor, said that as a general sentiment, he welcomed the peace covenant but he also doubted that other who signed would honor and not violate what they had signed for in the manifesto.
“I have been an advocate of peace in the past elections since I joined politics in 2004 and I would like to believe that those who signed will be true to their commitment,” Bravo said.
He has signed a similar commitment in the 2013 election but lamented that the others who affixed their signatures still violated the covenants and returned to their old political strategy of gaining political edge by way of the 3Gs (goons, guns, and gold).
“We will never attain a peaceful and orderly election if others would still adopt this old political strategy,” Bravo said.
He believes that the old style of politics should now be changed and there should be a paradigm shift from 3Gs to “performance-based” strategy.
On the issue of PAGs, he admitted that political warlords employ PAGS mainly to gain advantage over their rivals while others hire PAGs to protect themselves, Bravo said.
TF Masbate of the PNP Regional Special Operation Task Group (RSOTG) is keeping track of two PAGs hired by local politicians in the second district of the province covering the towns of Cataingan, Balud, Esperanza, Cawayan and Mandaon.
TF Masbate reports said political candidates were paying Php25,000 each for PAG members without firearms while Php50,000 each for those with firearms.
Jude Lanete, incumbent mayor of Placer, a candidate for vice governor, said in an interview that he believed in the objective of the covenant.
He, however, said the issue all boiled down to the sincerity of other candidates.
Jude is the son of expelled Masbate Gov. Rezalina "Dianne" Seachon-Lanete, who is now detained and facing plunder charges for misusing her Presidential Development Assistance Fund, is running for reelection.
On the PAGs issue, Lanete admitted that influential people and political warlords employ PAGs, citing the 2010 election which was marred by election violence, then the 2013 polls where violence was prevented due to the presence of TF Masbate.
Jamon Espares, incumbent provincial board member and running for reelection, believes that the covenant signing serves as a deterrent to violence but what is serious and alarming is the election aftermath where political leaders are being killed. (PNA) RMA/FGS/MSA/CBD