Police in R-12 on full alert as poll gun ban starts

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (Mindanews/14 January) — Police units in Region 12 were placed on full alert status over the weekend in connection with the start of the 150-day firearms ban on Sunday in preparation for the May 13 midterm local and national elections.
Chief Supt. Alex Paul Monteagudo, Region 12 police director, said Monday the upgrading of the area’s alert status was part of the strategies set by the Police Regional Office 12 in its comprehensive security plan for the upcoming elections in the region.
Region 12, which is also known as the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.
“We’re currently observing maximum personnel deployment and this will continue until the end of the election period,” the official said.
As of Monday morning, Monteagudo said they have completed the activation of police checkpoints that were assigned to specifically implement the firearms ban in the region.
He said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has required the establishment of a checkpoint in each municipality and city in the region that would regularly conduct firearms inspections on local motorists.
“We might set up more checkpoints in the coming weeks, depending on the security situation and needs of our concerned local governments,” he said.
Since the gun ban started on Sunday, Monteagudo said there were no reported incidents yet regarding possible violators in the region.
He said the ongoing implementation of the ban has so far turned out smoothly and with no related untoward incident happening in any part of Region 12.
Meantime, the police official said they were still verifying whether the reported encounter between government troops and breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) in Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu last Saturday was election-related.
“We initially classified it as a suspected election-related incident,” he said.
The encounter, which happened in Sitio Kumilat of Lake Sebu town’s Barangay Ned, supposedly involved around 40 members of the group’s armed wing Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters.
1Lt. Betheul Barber, public affairs officer of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, said the firefight ensued after government troops responded to report from civilians that armed men have been sighted in the area.
A militiaman identified as Rene Amar Pernal, who is a member of the 7th CAFGU (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) Active Auxiliary of South Cotabato.
2Lt. Angelo Peralta, team leader of the troops that traded fire with the armed men, said they were conducting active defense patrol in the area when the armed group fired at them.
He said the armed men were headed by a certain Udtog and a certain Mod, both from Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.
Last year, hundreds of residents had fled their homes due to the tension brought about by a long-standing land dispute in the area.
Police, military and Comelec personnel had identified Barangay Ned as well as the municipalities of Tampakan and T’boli as among possible areas of concern in the run-up to and during the May 13 polls. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)