2022 Philippine Elections

Comelec assures Ilocos Sur town voters of safety after shooting incident

John Michael Mugas
Comelec assures Ilocos Sur town voters of safety after shooting incident
Two suspects are in police custody following a deadly shooting incident that Comelec officials say is an isolated case

ILOCOS NORTE, Philippines – A day before the country heads to the polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Sunday, May 8, sought to assure voters and poll workers in the Magsingal town of Ilocos Sur province that they are on top of the situation after a deadly shooting incident between groups linked to mayoral rivals.

Lawyer and provincial election supervisor Alipio Castillo told a press briefing that the voting would push through on Monday despite worries among local residents that violence might escalate.

“Walang dapat ikabahala ang mga botante sa Magsingal… Mga teachers na maninilbihan, mga empleyeado ng Comelec ay wala ring dapat ikabahala,” he said.

(The voters in Magsingal have nothing to worry about… The teachers who will serve [as election workers] and Comelec employees also have nothing to worry about.) 

Castillo said that the shooting incident in Barangay Labut between supporters of rival candidates on May 7, the last day of the campaign season for the May 9 national and local elections, was an “isolated case.”

The incident left four people dead, and two suspects have already been arrested.

He added that the case remained a “concern”, but is not so alarming that people would be scared to go out and vote on Monday.

Castillo said government forces and resources would be used to ensure that the elections would be free from violence and fair for all candidates.

No Comelec takeover

Describing the shooting incident as a “simple case of people taking the matter into their own hands,” the election official said there was no need to elevate Magsingal’s alert level from “orange” to “red”, which would place the town under Comelec control. 

Elevating the town’s classification would be an “extreme measure”, Castillo said.

The more urgent task for authorities, he added, was to ensure “the safety of everyone, and that voters are able to go out and vote without fear” on Monday.

Speaking at the same press briefing, Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Singson said he would also make sure the elections in the province would be “peaceful and safe.”

To boost security, additional police forces from the regional and provincial camps as well as five teams from the Philippine Army have been deployed to secure at least five villages in the town after the shootout, Ilocos Sur Provincial Police Office chief Colonel Wilson Doromal added.

In a separate statement, Lieutenant General Vicente Danao Jr., the acting officer in-charge of the Philippine National Police, said the “tension in the town of Magsingal, Ilocos Sur, has been defused as more police personnel were sent to the area to maintain peace and prevent the situation from escalating.”

Last week, Comelec its controversial emergency powers to place the Pilar town in Abra under its control following a shooting incident between the vice mayor’s security aides and the local police. 

Guns and goons

Doromal said the Labut shooting incident’s four casualties are believed to be “supporters” of mayoral candidate Lorry Salvador Jr., who is running as an independent.

In a press statement, police said that supporters of mayoral candidate Alrico Favis, the wife of outgoing Magsingal Mayor Victoria Ina Favis, were allegedly involved in a vote-buying activity in Labut village. 

This is said to have prompted individuals identified as “supporters” of Salvador to confront those from the other group, leading to the deadly clash, the police said.

When police arrived at the crime scene, the four individuals were already felled on the ground with gunshot wounds.

They were identified as Recto Bacdayan Bagani, 65, from Ayeng Manabo, Abra; Jovito Ramos Tumaneng, 61, a retired army and a resident of Dingras, Ilocos Norte; Lerry Pol Harmon Torda, 41, resident of Maratudo, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur; and William Sican Bulil-lit, 61, a former member of Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit from Barbaquezo, Carasi, Ilocos Norte.

The Ilocos Sur governor said investigators and Comelec should look into how the four casualties were able to enter the province carrying firearms despite the implementation of a gun ban.

“We cannot say that those who died are supporters because they are not voting in Ilocos Sur,” Singson said in Ilocano. This makes it appear that they are “goons”, he said.

At least four others were wounded during the incident, the police said.

Suspects arrested

The police also said they arrested two suspects after the incident on Saturday, identified as Minelio Tolentino Oliver, 38, and barangay tanod Eddie Unzo, 37.

The two were arrested after allegedly attempting to flee on board a Tamaraw FX Revo. 

Authorities are currently verifying the ownership of the guns seized from the crime scene and the vehicles used by the groups involved in the shooting.

Doromal said they have been receiving several tips involving alleged vote buying activities in the town, but found no evidence when police arrived to verify the reports. 

Reports have also reached the provincial Comelec office, but Alipio said that “allegation is not synonymous to guilt, which is why there must be pieces of evidence” to prove the conduct of the illegal activity.

“Maraming cases of vote buying, and as this is a criminal case, madaling magsumbong, madaling mag-allege, kailangan natin ng evidence,” he said.

(There are several cases of vote buying, and as this is a criminal case, it’s easy to file complaints, to make allegations, but we need evidence.) – Rappler.com

John Michael Mugas is a Luzon-based fellow and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.