Bicol police watch poll threats in 3 provinces

AS the campaign period for the local elections started a week ago, Police Regional Office 5 director, Brigadier General Arnel B. Escobal yesterday said they are fully watching all threats posed by the New People’s Army and partisan armed groups that could be used to disrupt the holding of a peaceful and orderly May 13 elections in the entire region.

With the help of the Armed Forces, the PRO5 director said they are further stepping-up their conduct of checkpoints to arrest the flow of illegal weapons and mounting an unrelenting crackdown against PAGs, drug syndicates and other criminals in the region.

In particular, Escobal said they are keeping a close eye on the provinces of Masbate, Camarines Sur and Albay where there have been a recorded presence of NPA partisans as well as PAGs said to be under the employ of some rogue politicians.

The official said among the PAGs they have identified for neutralization are the Arizabal and Villareal Partisan Armed Groups operating in Masbate province as well as the Concepcion Group in Albay and the Mabulo Group in Camarines Sur.

According to Escobal, they have already arrested 99 gun ban violators and accounted for 612 loose firearms as a result of their strict enforcement of the prohibition on the unauthorized carrying of firearms and other deadly weapons since last January 13 in the entire region.

The lawyer-member of Philippine Military Academy ‘Hinirang’ Class of 1987 said that 477 of the confiscated weapons were turned over for safekeeping by their registered owners, 54 of them candidates for different elective posts in the May 13 national and local elections.

“We are tightening the noose on gun ban violators in the region as part of our effort to arrest the presence of illegal firearms that could be used to commit violence and criminality during the election period,” Escobal told the Journal Group.

Escobal said 24 were loose firearms seized by his men and broken down as follows: three in Camarines Norte; six in Camarines Sur; four in Catanduanes; five in Masbate; and six in Sorsogon.

Another 111 loose firearms were also confiscated in other parts of the region as well as three hand grenades, 22 other deadly weapons and 1,096 various live ammunition.

Citing data provided by the Regional Election Monitoring Action Center (REMAC) from January 13 to last March 26, Escobal said Bicol policemen have arrested and jailed a total of 99 persons who have violated the provision under the Omnibus election code particularly the prohibition of carrying firearms.

Among the arrested individuals, he said that 93 are civilians, three  from confirmed threat groups, one is a government official, one security guard and one government employee.

Escobal said the apprehensions were made as a result of 12,747 Joint PNP/Comelec checkpoints  in the region.

He said that Bicol policemen arrested two gun ban violators in Albay; two in Camarines Sur; and 17 in Masbate during conduct of checkpoints.

The official also said that 38 arrests were also recorded during police patrols/response broken down into the following: two  in Albay, five in Camarines Norte; nine in Camarines Sur;  two in Catanduanes; four in Masbate; nine in Naga City; and two in Sorsogon.

Escobal said that service of search warrants for violation of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulations Act of 2013 likewise led in the arrest of 38 persons who were found in possession of illegal guns. They include three in Albay, four in Camarines Norte, six in Camarines Sur, 13 in Masbate; and 10 in Sorsogon. Two others were also arrested as a result of Oplan: Bakal operations in Albay province.

The Bicol police director said he has ordered the strict enforcement of the gun ban and the prohibition on the employment of unauthorized bodyguards in the region until the end of the election period on June 12.

While the gun ban is in effect, all licensed gun owners are restricted from carrying or transporting their firearms outside their residence except if they have been issued gun ban exemptions by the Comelec.

During this period, only members of the PNP,  the Armed Forces and other law enforcement agencies are permitted to carry firearms provided they are performing official duties and wearing their agency-prescribed uniforms.