Esperon told a press conference that the President had directed them to “establish more checkpoints across the land to be in better support or position to the PNP (which) remains the lead agency to implement election laws and to keep the stability and peace during the elections.”
He said troops could be deployed to some areas during the election “but we remain to be as augmentation to the PNP.”
“In the run-up to the May 14 elections, you will find out you will have more checkpoints in your area. This is to prevent armed groups from harassing or disrupting the electoral process come May 14,” he said.
“We believe we have sufficient forces on the ground, depending on the orders of Comelec. We will deploy more soldiers as needed,” Esperon said.
He said he visited the Western Mindanao Command the other week. “We expect that we could be deployed we would be adding forces in Basilan and Sulu but here in this area (Eastern Mindanao Command), we do not see as yet any area that could become problematic during the elections,” he said.
But Esperon added that if there are areas that become problematic, “we are ready to deploy forces in tandem with the PNP.”
“By having our police forces in that kind of deployement, we will need our armed forces in establishing checkpoints or in securing communities or town centers or other targets or targets that the NPA (New People’s Army) would most likely hit when we are on election duty,” he said.
Esperon explained the military would be conducting checkpoints in tandem with the PNP and the Commission on Elections. “For sure you will see a signage there that that‘s a Comelec checkpoint,” he said.
But in mobile or random checkpoints the military will set up in pursuit of internal security operations, “we will see to it that there will be a marked vehicle on the road in the highways. So that should be the first thing people should look for: a military vehicle parked visibly near the road or on the road.”
Last week, elements of the 28th IB who conducted a random checkpoint in Purok 3-A Poblacion, New Bataan at around 6 p.m. on April 25, shot Warlito Villafuerte and Monith Bugahod, both 17, for failing to immediately stop, hitting Bugahod’s foot.
Karapatan reported that at their residence, Bugahod’s mother, Auling, neighbors Elias Mabundas, Warlito Villafurete Sr., and Beato Suralta decided to accompany him to the nearest hospital.
On their way to the hospital, another random checkpoint was conducted by the 28th IB along Purok-2 Crossing Sarmiento in Poblacion, New Bataan, Compostela Valley.
When the civilians failed to immediately stop at the checkpoint, the soldiers again fired at them, killing Bugahod’s mother, Auling and Mabundas and wounding the rest.
Reminded about what happened in New Bataan, Esperon said, “that has been a matter that underwent a review. There was a lapse there and investigation is ongoing about that. There should be a better way of warning,” he said.
But he did not say what the “better way” is.
“We would also like to appeal for cooperation as there had been victims of groups who go unimpeded in some areas and could bring about some incidents like the (raid on the) Davao Penal Colony. We appeal for cooperation. The soldiers are not there to harass anybody but simply to make this place a better place for us.”
On criticisms against deployment of troops, Esperon said, “but they must also think that there have been incidents that have happened because of loose firearms and we cannot deny there are armed groups like the New People’s Army so instead of doubting the deployment, they should look at the benefits that we get out of a safer or a more peaceful environment when we go to the polling places. Your soldiers will be there on orders of the Comelec,” Esperon said.
“Meantime, we have a mandate to perform in pursuing our internal security mandate is concerned. We simply have to do all these things otherwise who would safeguard the countryside from the depredations of the New Peoples’ Army?” Esperon asked.