COMELEC should put Samar under its control

The spate of killings and the recent murder attempt claiming the life of one 14-year old girl and putting another 12-year old girl at stake in Samar is a clear sign that the Secretary of Interior of Local Government (SILG) is incapable of handling the worsening peace and order situation in the area instigated by suspected Private Armed Groups (PAGs). 

This, despite the supposed crime mitigating factors in Samar to include the rigodon of PNP (Philippine National Police) Provincial and City Commanders; assignment of additional 100 Special Action Force (SAF) elements; and the Signing of Peace Covenants between political bigwigs in the province. Samar is one of the provinces considered hotspot but is not yet under the control of COMELEC. 

The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) should put this province under its control. It should not wait for the recommendation of PNP as the former has the capacity to declare on its own so long as there has been an “extensive” study. While in general terms, placing an area under COMELEC supervision needs the prodding of either the PNP or AFP, the Commission obviously has broad idea that the killings happening in Samar are political in nature. The occurrences are election-related violence. 

Police and military records show that in 2015 alone, there were a little less than 50 shooting incidents in the province resulting to 22 deaths. This prompted the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division and Samar Provincial Police Office to conduct a Peace and Security Dialogue in Catbalogan shortly after the filing of candidacies last October, 2015. All of these incidents happened either in Calbayog City or in the Samar’s First District. 

Interestingly or otherwise, all Calbayog City Mayor Ronaldo Aquino could do was to “appreciate” the police and army for the activity. Mayor Aquino is the incumbent chairman of the influential Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC), the highest policy-making body in the region concerning peace and security. Everyone wonders how in the world he could manoeuvre peace and development in a regional scale when he could not even settle Calbayog a violent-free city as its Local Chief Executive (LCE). In public’s perception, he could have done more as mayor as he has all the powers endowed to him by the laws of the land to curtail all these lawless elements within his jurisdiction. 

DILG Sec. Mel Senen Sarmiento also hails from Calbayog. He served as the city’s mayor and consequently became Samar’s 1st District Representative to Congress before he took the DILG leadership last year. He knows very well the problem in his area. He should explain to the public why these atrocities still happen and lay down actions being taken to immediately put violence to a halt. 

Samar Governor Sharree Ann Tan, on the other hand is so irked that she is willing to offer P100,000 for the immediate arrest of private armies with arrest warrants on their heads. “The reward is in the hope that criminality in the province will stop and that for criminals to realize that their acts are not welcome in Samar,” she said. 

The governor apparently has no hold on the leadership of Provincial Police Office (PPO). The PNP Provincial Director of her choice had been replaced by someone she is not acquainted to. Under the Local Government Code, the LCE is given the upper hand to hand-pick the police leadership to ensure smooth cooperation in the conduct of maintaining peace and order in the area. Observers say the lady governor could hardly do that since it is Sarmiento who is on top of police hierarchy. Sarmiento and Tan are publicly known to be political nemesis. 

Months after the dialogue and a week into the start of local campaign, killings are still happening and PNP still has yet to submit a single PAG member with arrest warrant. If there is no imminent solution to this, it leaves people this penultimate question: How many lives will still be claimed until the May 9 elections?
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