More troops sent to Columbio in run-up to Oct. 25 polls

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/18 October) – Citing alleged plans by the New People’s Army (NPA) to disrupt the October 25 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, the military started beefing up its presence in Columbio town in Sultan Kudarat since last week.

Lt. Col. Joel Nacnac, commander of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, said Monday they deployed additional troopers in 16 villages of Columbio to avert any possible plans by the rebels to instigate violence in the area in the run-up to the upcoming elections.

He said they received reports from local informants that the rebel group has supposedly endorsed the candidacies of some aspirants in at least five barangays of Columbio.

“We’re still verifying these reports but we initially confirmed that there were rebel movements recently in the identified areas where they were supporting some of the candidates,” the Army official said.

Aside from supporting some local candidates, Nacnac said the rebels were reportedly planning to intervene in the conduct of the elections in areas where their influence has already diminished during the last several years.

“They’re (NPA rebels) clearly using the upcoming elections and some local aspirants in their desperate bid to win back the support of local residents to their organization,” he said.

Nacnac added they have stepped up patrols and intelligence monitoring on the movements of the NPA rebels.

He said they established additional detachments in several barangays where rebel movements were confirmed during the past several months.

“We’ve been comparing notes with our counterparts from the Philippine National Police and regularly coordinating with our civilian sources for more vital information related to these security concerns,” Nacnac said.

The Army official said they strengthened the barangay defense systems in upland villages and communities in the area to help avert hostile NPA actions.

Several villages in the hinterlands of Columbio and the nearby towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Makilala in North Cotabato were declared by the 27th IB as potential hotspots during the last May elections due to the presence of the Front 76 of the NPA’s Far South Mindanao Region.

But Nacnac said their unit has not recorded any election-related incident in the area during the previous May 10 synchronized national and local elections and in the ongoing election campaign.

During the last two years, the NPA’s Front 76, which is reportedly headed by Emmanuel Fernandez alias “Ka Bobo,” has staged attacks on the base camp and facilities of mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) and the raid at the municipal hall and police station of Tampakan town.

SMI, which is financially backed by Swiss mining firm Xstrata Copper, is presently exploring the resource-rich tri-boundaries of Tampakan, Columbio and Kiblawan Davao del Sur for a planned large-scale copper and gold mining project in the area. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)