Police on alert in Maguindanao as 11 of 36 towns “hotly contested”

BULUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews/30 September) —  The provincial police is on full alert for the October 1 to 5 filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) for the May 2013 election to ensure there would be no repeat of the violence that greeted the filing in 2009.

Fifty eight persons, among them 32 media workers and the wife and relatives of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, were in a convoy on their way to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak town on November 23, 2009  to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for governor when stopped along the highway in Ampatuan town by about a hundred armed men reportedly led by then Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr.

They never made it to the Comelec office. They were found dead in the afternoon, in what would turn out to be the worst ever
election-related violence in the country’s history.

For this week’s filing of COCs, the Maguindanao Police has identified 11 of 36 towns  “hotly contested” and prone to election-related violence.

But Mangudadatu, who won as governor in the May 2010 polls,  vowed there would be no repeat of the 2009 violence.

“It is better for our rivals to call us cowards rather than engage in hostilities. As much as possible, we will evade trouble and maintain to be humble,” he said.

Mangudadatu is running for reelection under the Liberal Party against Tocao Mastura, long-time mayor of Sultan Kudarat town and uncle of his former running mate, Vice Governor Ismael Mastura.

Police Senior Superintendent Jaime Pido, Maguindanao police chief, said that based on their intelligence report and security assessment, the towns of Pagalungan, Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Paglat, Datu Unsay, Shariff Saydona, Datu Hoffer, Datu Salibo. Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Sultan Mastura and Sultan Kudarat are “hotly contested.”

Six of these 11 “hotly contested” towns are presently under the leadership of the Ampatuans:  Shariff Aguak, Datu Unsay, Shariff Saydona, Datu Hoffer, Datu Salibo and Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Pido noted that in the past,  candidates in these towns were unopposed.

Pido said they have received no memorandum from the Comelec on a gun ban but he instructed his men to be vigilant against armed escorts of politicians.

He said uniformed personnel from police, army and security agencies can serve as escort but “other than that, we will disarm, confiscate and file a case against those who dare to violate the law,” Pido added.

Police also are monitoring the movement of private armed groups and the like of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who might disrupt this week’s filing of COCs, Pido said.

Maguindanao has been under a state of emergency since  November 24, 2009.

The Army’s 601st brigade which covers Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao towns has also set up its  security plans.

Col. Edmundo Pangilinan, brigade commander, said they will provide Army escorts to politicians who request for assistance in areas perceived to be under threat.

“I will not give individual security but they (politicians) should tell me what area they are going  to go and  I will give them the
appropriate security” he said.

Mangudadatu  met with the provincial members of the Liberal party in his office on Saturday.

He said Liberal Party members will file their COCs on Thursday, October 4 at the Provincial Comelec  office in Cotabato City.

Before filing their COC’s, Mangudadatu and his convoy will visit the massacre site in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, where a wreath laying ceremony and prayers will be offered.  (Ferdinand B. Cabrera/MindaNews)