‘It’s war’ down in Zamboanga Norte

DIPOLOG CITY, Philippines – The local campaigns may have just started, but long before this, the intensity of the rivalries between candidates of the Liberal Party (LP) on one side and of the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) on the other side has been felt in Zamboanga del Norte.

The rivalries – actually, between two camps that consist of 5 political families – have been marred with unsolved killings, strafing of offices and homes, and arrests of media personalities.

True, LP and NP are in coalition at the national level for the senatorial elections, but down at the local level, “it’s war,” as Nacionalista gubernatorial bet Cesar Jalosjos put it.

In the past six months in the capital city of Dipolog, 26 killings have been reported, all of them unsolved to this day. Aside from that, 7 strafing incidents have happened: at the homes of a Commission on Elections (Comelec) regional director and a provincial board member; at the offices of two lawyers; at a radio station; at the business office of a local paper; and the house of a broadcast journalist.

"And sad to say, the victims of unsolved killings were my leaders and supporters, the strafed homes and offices are owned by our lawyers (except for the COMELEC regional director), while the media personalities are known to be our sympathizers," said Gov Rolando Yebes, who is running for congressman in the 2nd district under UNA.

The police has yet to identify suspects or come up with a progress report on their investigations, but the LP leadership here has denied allegations that they were behind the incidents. Those killed, they say, were “police characters.”

As in the past, the political races in Zamboanga del Norte this year will be between the Labadlabad-Uy-Amatong group, which is now affiliated with LP, and the Jalosjos-Yebes group, which is affiliated with NP and UNA.

The LP in this province is up against the formidable machinery of the Jalosjos clan, which has expanded to the other Zamboanga provinces, and which has been supportive of Vice President Jejomar Binay.

This puts the national LP in a bind. If it is to lessen the Jalosjoses’ influence in Zamboanga Peninsula for Mar Roxas’s expected presidential candidacy against Binay, then it would have to wage a war against the clan in Zamboanga del Sur as well.

In that neighboring province, however, the LP is in coalition with the Jalosjoses in their attempte to topple another political giant, the Cerilles group, which is staunchly anti-President Aquino.

"It's not really for matuwid na daan (straight path), you know," Jalosjos said, referring to President Benigno Aquino III’s slogan. "It's all about winning. There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests."

Unsolved cases

The latest strafing incident happened on January 25 at the house of lawyer Wildred Jay Balisado. He is a Dipolognon who is now Comelec director for Region 11 (Davao Region).

Balisado is facing a complaint filed by Roberto Yu Uy in 2007, when Balisado was Comelec’s assistant regional director for Zamboanga Peninsula.

Uy, who is now running for governor under LP, ran for the same post 2007 and lost to Yebes. Kenneth Rosal, lawyer for Uy, said Balisado “openly sided and even conspired with Yebes in implementing the scheme of putting up a hoax nuisance candidate named Roberto Yang Uy that sowed confusion among voters and eventually led to the defeat of Roberto Yu Uy in the gubernatorial elections.”

Balisado vehemently denied Uy’s allegations. The case is still at the preliminary investigation level with the Comelec law department in Manila.

Balisado doesn’t think the strafing of his house would be solved at all by the police. “I’m just an addition to the statistics of unsolved series of strafing.”

STRAFED. Comelec official Wilfred Jay Balisado shows the bullet holes on his gate in Dipolog City.

Photo by Gualberto Laput

Planted evidence?

In the past 3 years, 3 broadcasters critical of the Labadlabad-Uy-Amatong group were arrested in controversial drug buy-bust operations by the Dipolog City Police.

Ryan Uy was arrested on Oct 29, 2010; Joseph Herrera, on May 5, 2011; Genesis Ajero, on Sept 3, 2012. The broadcasters denied the allegations, and maintained that the evidence against them were all planted.

Upon the orders of Secretary Leila de Lima, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) here recently probed the alleged irregularities in the conduct of buy-bust operations against the 3 broadcasters.

The NBI found that Police Sr Supt Reynaldo Maclang, then Dipolog City Police chief and now head of the Zamboanga del Norte Provincial Police Safety Company, and members of Team DAVID, a police auxiliary group of Dipolog, committed “illegal acts” when they executed “scenario operation” against Herrera.

“Scenario operation” is when law enforcers would create a scenario against a target suspect and execute an operation according to the scenario they created, explained Atty Froilo Icao Jr., who lead the NBI investigation.

Icao added in his report that if a “scenario operation” was done to a prominent person like Herrera, it could also be done against Ryan Uy and Ajero.

One of the lawyers whose houses were strafed told Rappler that the target is not really the victims, but the leadership of the Jalosjos-Yebes group.

The lawyer, who asked not to be identified, said: "There is an old Chinese saying that goes, Sha Ji Xia Hou, or kill the chicken to scare the monkey. Make an example of someone as a way to warn the others."

He added, “We (the victims) were just the chicken being pounded at to scare the monkeys.” – Rappler.com