S. Kudarat town under close watch for election violence

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 11 April) – Authorities are closely watching the campaign activities of political camps in President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat province due to the possible escalation of violent incidents in the area in the run-up to the May 13 midterm national and local elections.

Chief Supt. Charles Calima Jr., Region 12 police director, said the security situation in President Quirino town has remained volatile in the last several weeks due to the continuing threats on the life of reelectionist Mayor Emilio Salamanca.

Salamanca, who is running under the United Nationalist Alliance, figured in two daring attacks at his residence in Tacurong City in November and December last year that authorities believed were linked to his reelection bid.

“There are still threats on the major’s (Salamanca) life. So I instructed our personnel there to make sure that his campaign sorties and routes are properly secured,” Calima said in an interview with ABS-CBN General Santos.

The official said they have been closely coordinating with the Salamanca camp for other security-related assistance that they might need.

He noted that they cannot provide bodyguards for the mayor but they can arrange for police security escorts during his campaign activities.

The incumbent mayor is being challenged by Liberal Party (LP) bet Azel Mangudadatu, who lost in their first faceoff in the 2010 elections.

Azel is the wife of outgoing mayor and now LP vice mayoral candidate Freddie Mangudadatu of Mangudadatu town in Maguindanao.

On November 8 last year, unidentified suspects fired a rifle grenade at Salamanca’s residence along Malvar St. in Tacurong City.

No one was injured in the explosion, which happened near the gate of the residential compound.

Another grenade exploded inside the Salamanca compound on December 27 but one of the alleged suspects was killed in an ensuing firefight with the mayor’s security escorts. The attacker’s cohort was later arrested by responding policemen.

Despite these, Calima said they still don’t consider President Quirino as a potential election hotspot or an area of immediate concern.

The official said they have not yet declared any possible areas of immediate concern in Region 12 for the upcoming elections.

Southwestern Mindanao, which is also known as the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and North Cotabato as well as the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

In the previous elections, several areas in the region were initially declared as areas of immediate concern but most of them were later downgraded to just areas of concern.

Last month, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) set four levels of security classification – area of concern, area of immediate concern, area of grave concern, and area under Comelec-control – for the May polls.

Police units were given the authority to determine which places are areas of concern but were required to coordinate with the Comelec and conduct further verification in case they upgrade their classification into immediate concern and grave concern.

Meantime, Calima said they have also intensified their operations against wanted personalities and other criminal elements in the region.

“There might be some people who will offer their services to the candidates. We’re trying to prevent this from happening through what we call our market disruption operations,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)