2 SouthCot mining towns areas of concern in run-up to May 13 elections

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 January) —  Police authorities are closely watching the political developments in two mining towns and a remote village in South Cotabato province due to the possible escalation of violence in the run-up to and during the May 13 elections.

Senior Supt. Randolph Delfin, South Cotabato police director on Thursday said they have identified the mining towns of Tampakan and T’boli as well as Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu as possible areas of concern in the upcoming elections.

He said the assessment emerged during a security coordinating conference called by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in nearby Koronadal City on Wednesday.

“Our security preparations for the elections are presently focused on these areas,” Delfin said.

The three areas were identified as possible areas of concern based on previous records of election-related violence and the confirmed presence of armed groups that may disrupt the conduct of the polls there.

In the previous elections, the Philippine National Police (PNP) identified the potential hotspots or areas of immediate concern based on the extent of insurgency problem, the intense political rivalry and  records of election-related incidents during the last three elections.

A PNP briefer cited that “the absence of any of the three parameters automatically places an area as just under watch or an election area of concern.”

T’boli town was cited as a potential area of concern due to the reported presence of various rebel groups and criminal elements and the ambush a few days before the 2001 elections on a campaign caravan of then mayoralty bet and outgoing vice mayor Salvador Ramos.

The town hosts the silver and gold project of the Canadian-backed Tribal Mining Corporation and a number of small-scale gold mining ventures.

Lake Sebu’s Barangay Ned, which is among the province’s remotest areas, made the list due to the confirmed presence of armed groups and the escalation of violence in some parts of the area last year due to a long-drawn  land dispute.

The area, which is considered as a prime agribusiness production area, hosts various coal mining projects of conglomerate San Miguel Corporation.

Tampakan town, which hosts the planned large-scale copper and gold mining project of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc., had been identified by the PNP and Comelec as election hotspot due to the intense rivalry among local politicians.

In 2001, the eldest child of then Tampakan Mayor Claudius Barroso was shot dead at the height of the election campaign.

In 2004, losing Tampakan mayoralty bet Gregorio Banal was shot dead two months after the election s gave Baroso yet another term.

Barroso’s son Bienvenido won in the 2007 mayoralty race but he failed to assume the post after he was tagged as the alleged mastermind in Banal’s murder.

In July last year, the young Barroso was acquitted of the charges by Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 6 Judge Jansen Rodriguez for insufficient evidence.

But his driver and co-accused Rudy Mangilay was found guilty of murder after being positively identified by a witness.

Delfin said they are currently assessing the areas that might need personnel augmentation during the conduct of the May 13 elections.

He said the Philippine Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, which is based in Tupi town, initially committed to deploy their units in some remote areas in the province during the polls.

The official discounted a possible revamp or reshuffle of the area’s officials and personnel before the May elections.

He said he is confident that the police chiefs presently assigned in the province’s 10 towns and lone city will be fair and non-partisan during the elections.

“I trust my officers and I’m confident that we can rely on them to deliver their assigned tasks come election time,” Delfin said. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)