PANTAR, Lanao del Norte (MindaNews / 18 Oct) –This small municipality at the border of the two Lanao provinces became a virtual ghost town last week as residents feared violence would break out during the filing of Certificates of Candidacy (COCs) by two warring clans.
But no violent incident happened as intermediaries got the two camps to agree which clan would file on what day to avoid an encounter at the Commission on Elections office: Monday to Wednesay for this camp, Thursday and Friday for the other.
The police and the military had prepared for any eventuality, deploying tanks and troops to prevent the followers of incumbent mayor Magondaya Tago, and former mayor Mohammad Exchan Gabriel Limbona, from killing each other.
Police Insp. Wilson Dimaflores, chief of the Lanao del Norte police Public safety Company said at least 200 policemen and soldiers arrived to provide security when Limbona and his opponent filed their COCs at the Comelec office at the municipal hall.
Tago did not seek reelection but fielded his nephew, Jabbar Tago, 29, an ukay-ukay trader, to run for mayor in this fifth-class municipality in Lanao del Norte.
Dimaflores said six Simba armored personnel carriers were deployed around the Pantar municipal hall and along the known routes the warring clans would use en route to the Comelec office.
But no untoward incident happened because of the agreed schedule: Limbona and his candidates filed their COCs from Monday to Wednesday while the followers of Tago filed theirs on Thursday and Friday.
“That way we were able to prevent any violent incident,” Dimaflores said.
Still, the atmosphere was very tense the entire week. Traders closed shop and residents left their homes temporarily to make way for the electoral exercise.
Jabbar Tago was escorted by a convoy of relatives when he filed his COC last Friday.
Along the route, armed men clad in military uniforms with assorted patches identifying them as Army, Philippine National Police, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front, were deployed to secure the roads that the convoy took on the way to the municipal hall.
As the convoy entered the town, everyone’s attention was riveted to two buildings beside the municipal hall where snipers from their opponents were reportedly hiding.
Jabbar Tago, who grew up in nearby Cagayan de Oro, said this is the first thing he wants to change if he wins.
He said clean and peaceful elections should prevail, not this kind of situation where guns decide who will win.
“We have to discard the old and embrace the new. I think we the young can change our town,” Jabbar said
The police and military, however, think conducting a peaceful elections in Pantar is not feasible this coming May.
Dimaflores said police and military officials are proposing to the Comelec to conduct special polls in Pantr. “Our troops and tanks are not enough to provide the security. We do not have enough to guard the villages where many of the voting centers are located,” he said.
Dimaflores said violence between clans in Pantar has been going on for the past three years.
He said a firefight between the warring clans would last for days with both sides using high-powered firearms and even mortars. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)