BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCOR) ordered the replacement of the entire police force of Pilar town in Abra province on Wednesday, May 4.
PROCOR Director BGen. Ronald Lee made the announcement after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) placed Pilar under its control.
In a brief statement to the media, Lee said members of the Regional Mobile Police Force Battalion 15 (RMPFB 15) will replace all 27 police officers, including the Pilar chief.
“All personnel of the Pilar Municipal Police Station are now temporarily reassigned to the Personnel Holding and Accounting Section of the Abra Provincial Police Office, to be deployed immediately to other units to perform election duties,” Lee said.
During the Comelec’s May 4 press conference at Camp Crame, Chairperson Saidamen Pangarungan said reports from their local office and complaints from the local government prompted him to put the town under their control.
Earlier, the Comelec chief said this would not happen despite an earlier shootout and stand-off between the police and security aides of the incumbent vice major in March. He explained then that when he visited Bangued in April, local Comelec and police officials had told him the peace and order situation was under control.
“Just recently, I received confidential reports from our regional election director, Ederlino Tabilas, and also the petition of the local government unit in Pilar, disclosing the apparent bias of the local police detachment in Pilar, Abra. There were also reports of threats and intimidation to some supporters of certain candidates in Pilar,” he said.
“The mayor, vice mayor and even the councilors are already hiding because they feel that they cannot be protected by the local police,” he added.
Comelec procedures dictate that Pilar municipal election officer Aida Citam would be assembling a task force that would oversee poll-related activities in the town. She would also have operational control over Pilar’s security.
Siblings Mayor Maro Somera and Vice Mayor Jaja Josefina Disono are both seeking reelection. They are running against Tyron Beroña and Samson Laguesma for mayor and vice mayor.
The challengers are allies of incumbent Abra representative Joseph Bernos, who is running unopposed as mayor in La Paz town and is being succeeded in congress by his wife, Menchie.
The mayor and vice mayor are children of former Abra Vice Governor Rolando Somera, whose murder in 2017 remains unsolved.
Members of the Pilar police force were involved in a March 29 shootout with a security team employed by Disono. During a police chase, the van, which allegedly breached the checkpoint, entered the Disono’s compound, triggering a stand-off.
A member of Disono’s security team, Sandee Boy Bermudo, was killed in the shootout.
The police charged Somera and Disono with human trafficking and the unauthorized employment of bodyguards. The police also filed charges of disobedience to persons in authority against some of their security aides.
However, the parallel investigation conducted by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) National Capital Region disputed the claims of the local PNP.
Results of the NBI probe said the police deliberately fired at Disono’s convoy.
On April 28, the NBI filed murder charges for the death of Bermudo against several police officials in Abra and Pilar, including Lee and Abra Provincial Director Col. Maly Castillo.
NBI also implicated members of RMPFB 15 and filed perjury charges against the police officers.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Dionardo Bernardo Carlos, who was with the Comelec chair at the press conference, welcomed the NBI move, but said the vice mayor’s aides did not honor the police checkpoint.
Abra has perennially landed under the PNP’s election watchlist due to the spate of violence during election period.
On April 2, two days after the shootout, Barangay Bulbulo kagawad Marlon Tanurio was shot dead while he was sleeping in his house.
On April 27, Ronnie Bringas, barangay captain of Angad in the capital town of Bangued, was shot dead. Mayoral and vice mayoral candidates in Bangued had earlier accused him of being involved in vote-buying.
Another village council member, Fermin Pilor, Jr. of Poblacion, Dolores was gunned down on April 29, along with his companion, Romualdo Amano, in Barangay Cardona.
In 2005, the whole provincial police force was replaced by a joint police and military task force after a government fact-finding team confirmed that police officers and soldiers were moonlighting as security personnel of influential Abra clans. – Rappler.com
Sherwin De Vera is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.