The Commission on Elections (Comelec) officially placed the central Negros town of Moises Padilla under its control in the wake of violent incidents that claimed the lives of two reelectionist councilors and a former councilor.
Commissioners Antonio Kho Jr. and Rowena Guanzon arrived at noon in the town yesterday and held a consultative meeting with the municipal officials and department heads and witnessed the send-off of military troops and the turnover of police command.
Kho said that based on the general framework of Comelec control, the town officials will be under scrutiny and will be given special focus to determine if they are complying with election laws.
So far, this town is the only local government unit in the Visayas placed under Comelec control for the 2019 mid-term elections.
Prior to the declaration, Moises Padilla was listed under Category Red, being an “area of grave concern”, with a history of poll-related incidents in the past two elections, intense political rivalry, and serious armed threat posed by the New People’s Army and other lawless elements.
Once an area is placed under Comelec control, the poll body has the authority to reshuffle Philippine National Police personnel; require the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to look into existence of private armed groups and suppress and prevent acts of terrorism; and, through the DILG, also has the authority to appoint any local government official to act as the officer-in-charge.
“(Even if) an area is declared under Comelec control, we are not ousting any official in this municipality. They continue to be officers unless they are disqualified or removed for some other cause,” Kho said.
He assured the residents that in putting the town under its control, the Comelec is not siding with a political family or a candidate.
“We are here to ensure that the elections will be held peacefully. Our constituents will be able to vote freely, and will have credible elections on May 13,” Kho said.
Based on the resolution placing Moises Padilla under the Comelec control, a special task force, headed by former Negros Occidental provincial election supervisor Jessie Suarez, will be formed to coordinate with the local officials on how the poll body’s control will be exercised.
The members include DILG-Negros Occidental provincial director Carmelo Orbista, police provincial director, Col. Romeo Baleros, and 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Benedict Arevalo.
Comelec-6 Regional Director Jose Nick Mendros said the municipality will be placed under the Comelec control until the end of election period on June 12, unless the order is lifted by the Commission en banc before the date.
Kho said the reports required by the Comelec from the municipal government will be submitted through the special task force.
“They will act as our listening post here. Essentially, they are here to monitor the situation in Moises Padilla,” he added.
Among the reports required by the Comelec is the inventory of the firearms owned by the municipal government.
PEÑA ‘VERY HAPPY’.
Mayor Magdaleno Peña welcomed the move to place his municipality under Comelec control.
“Very happy. The better development is the army is here. I’m thankful,” he added.
The Philippine Army has deployed 150 soldiers to this town while the personnel of Moises Padilla Municipal Police Station headed by Maj. Junji Liba have been relieved and transferred to other assignments.
Lt. Col. Adrian Acollador was tasked as officer-in-charge of the town police.
He said one company of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion and personnel from other units compose the current police force of Moises Padilla.
On April 25, reelectionist Councilor Jose Antonio “Michael” Garcia and his uncle former Association of Barangay Captains president, Jose Marcelino “Mark” Garcia were killed on the way home from the campaign.
Last March 31, Councilor Jolomar Hilario, a reelectionist, was gunned down by members of the New People’s Army at his residence.* (Nanette Guadalquiver NDB)