Peaceful polls in Maguindanao possible—Police

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (VERA Files through MindaNews/24 April) — Maguindanao gained notoriety as the province where 58 people were massacred in 2009, but elections here can be peaceful and orderly, the police provincial director said.

“As long as we help one another, follow Comelec rules and keep our heads cool, I think we can have peaceful and orderly elections,” Senior Superintendent Rodelio B. Jocson said in Filipino.

Jocson, who was interviewed by VERA Files at Camp Datu Akilan in Shariff Aguak, said the usual reported incidents are family clashes or rido but there haven’t been any hot encounters among political rivals.

Based on the provincial police records from January to March this year, the index distribution counts 57 crimes committed against persons and 41 crimes against property.

Of the 57 crimes against persons, 18 were murder, five frustrated murder, eight homicide, 23 physical injury and three rape while of the 41 crimes against property there were 18 robberies, nine thefts, eight carnappings and six cattle rustling.  Jocson said the statistics include election related incidents but refused to elaborate.

When asked if the Philippine National Police has identified watchlist areas in the province, he said they have to draw up a final one. He, however, said that the PNP is monitoring least five partisan/private armed groups (PAGs) in Maguindanao.

The provincial police’s security plan includes the installation of checkpoints in strategic locations, the conduct of continuous patrols, and maintaining high alert against PAGs.

Maguindanao is a province located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which is known as the site of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre. The incident made headlines as the worst election related violent incident in the country that claimed the lives of 58 individuals, 32 of them members of the media.

After the massacre, the Independent Commission Against Private Armies (ICAPA) otherwise known as the Zeñarosa Commission was created. Retired Court of Appeals Justice Monina Zeñarosa headed ICAPA.

As of April 2010, a presidential election year, the commission reported there were three PAGs in the province with 1,596 members, the most number of members among all PAGs nationwide.

That year, the region also had the most number of PAGs with a total of 20 followed by the Bicol region that listed 15 and the Ilocos region with 12.

But while the police have yet to finalize the watchlist areas in the province, ARMM election watchdog Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms, Inc. (Citizen’s CARE) has identified 59 municipalities in ARMM, 19 of them in Maguindanao, as areas to watch, chairperson Salic Ibrahim said.

“There are places where intense rivalry is likely to break out,” he said, adding that the list was based on reports from their volunteers.

The purpose of the list is to make citizens aware that there are areas that need to be closely monitored, Ibrahim said.

Citizen’s CARE watchlist areas in Maguindanao include Ampatuan, Barira, Buldon, Cotabato City, Datu Abdullah Sangki, Datu Piang, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Guindulungan, Gen. SK Pendatun, Mamasapano, Pagagawan (Datu Montawal), Pagalugan, Parang, Rajah Buayan, Shariff Aguak, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Sultan sa Barongis and Talitay.

Usual incidents reported in the areas mentioned usually involve threats and sapakan (fist fights) among supporters, he said.

Citizen’s CARE is a Comelec accredited group with 31 member organizations and more than 7,000 volunteers all over ARMM.

Maguindanao has two congressional districts composed of 36 municipalities and 508 barangays. It has a total of 439,678 voters. (Artha Kira Paredes/VERA Files through MindaNews)