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LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Bishop Joel “Bong” Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi on Thursday, October 15, called for the increased presence of government security forces in the Bicol region to ensure peaceful elections.
“We call on the law enforcers to intensify their campaign against loose firearms and to dismantle the presence of private armed groups in Bicol,” Baylon said.
Baylon said intervention by the police and the military is needed following cases of political violence in previous elections, a call that echoes appeals in other areas plagued by the presence of private armies. (READ: Bishop to Aquino: Stop Samar killings before polls)
A mayoral candidate in Albay’s Malinao town – former Makati City engineer Nelson Morales – was gunned down by an alleged private armed group in 2012. It was the first known case of election violence in the 2013 midterm elections.
The presence of private armed groups are feared in the provinces of Masbate, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte. These areas have consistently been under tight watch.
Masbate was repeatedly placed under the control of the Commission on Elections because of election violence. In 1989, Masbate City Mayor Moises Espinosa was killed by alleged inmates and jail officers from the Masbate Provincial Jail. In 1991, Masbate Representative Jolly Fernandez was gunned down allegedly by inmates from the same correctional facility.
The region will be among the most-watched areas in the coming 2016 polls because of the participation of 4 Bicolano politicians in the vice presidential polls. It is a challenge for local politicians in the region that has been known for bloc voting for fellow Bicolanos.
Baylon has committed the local church’s participation in educating Bicol voters and ensuring that the elections will be peaceful and orderly.
“We will organize these [activities] in every city and municipality in the province where candidates can come together, present their plans to the public, and debate on issues that matter to their respective communities,” he said.
The local Diocesan Commission on Social Concerns and Social Action Center also launched the PPCRV Albay-Election Operation and affirmed its commitment to assist Comelec.
PPCRV or the Parish Pastorical Council for Responsible Voting is the nationwide election watchdog organized by leaders of the Catholic Church. It establishes voters assistance desks and monitoring on election day. Volunteers are also deployed in polling centers to assist voters and board of election inspectors.
“Consistent with our HOPE (honest, orderly and peaceful elections) advocacy, we are campaigning against vote buying and selling, political dynasties, and election-related violence,” Baylon said in a pastoral letter.
“We are also introducing grassroots communities to the concept of and venues for people’s participation in good governance,” he added. – Rappler.com