Army sends more troops to SouthCot’s upland villages

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 12 May) – Government troops have intensified their security operations in several upland villages of Tampakan town in South Cotabato following the reported movements of armed groups in the area in the past several days.

Evangeline Basan, acting Tampakan election officer, said on Sunday the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion has sent additional troops to the area to secure local communities and the conduct of the elections on Monday.

She said they earlier withdrew the scheduled final sealing and testing for the precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines that were assigned for four remote villages in the area due to the volatile security situation.

They instead decided to deliver the eight PCOS machines for the affected barangays – Palo, Tablu, Danlag and Buto – early on Monday, she said. “We will begin the deployment of the PCOS machines and the releasing of the election materials at 2 a.m. (Monday), starting off with the remote areas,” Basan said.

The official said the vehicles that will deliver the PCOS machines and election materials, as well as their assigned security escorts, are already on standby.

She said security will also be provided for the board of election inspectors and poll clerks that are assigned in areas with security threats or concerns.

The Commission on Elections and the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office earlier identified Tampakan town as among the province’s areas of concern for Monday’s polls.

Tampakan was previously considered as a hotspot area due to the recorded election-related murders in the locality during the 2001 and 2004 elections.

But the area’s security classification has been downgraded by the Philippine National Police and Comelec due to its “clean record” in terms of election-related violence since the 2007 polls.

The municipality had been plagued by security problems in the last several years, among them the attacks staged by the New People’s Army (NPA) and local armed groups opposing the planned large-scale copper and gold mining venture of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. in the area.

A series of clashes had occurred in several upland villages in the last several months as government troops stepped up their operations against an armed group led by Daguel Capion, a disgruntled B’laan tribal leader who has taken up arms against the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI).

In October last year, Capion’s wife and two young children were killed in a military operation near SMI’s mines development site.

Last month, Capion declared that he has joined the NPA to further pursue his cause.