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Up to 15 Brgy, SK bets in Negros Oriental ‘linked’ to NPA —Army

DUMAGUETE CITY — The Philippine Army on Friday said it is monitoring 10 to 15 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) election candidates in Negros Oriental who may have links to the New People’s Army (NPA), a few days before the May 14 polls.

Lieutenant Colonel Darrell Bañez, commanding officer of the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion, told GMA News Online that the figure is “very few,” and the reports involving these candidates are still subject for verification.

He added that aside from candidates, the military has also received information that there are also a number of incumbent barangay officials in the province who are sympathetic to the NPA’s cause.

Most of these candidates were reported in Guihulngan City, where 32 of its 35 barangays have been labeled by the military as NPA-affected areas, Bañez said. The city also has the most number of hot spots for this Monday’s polls with 20 barangays, also due to the strong presence of NPA rebels there.

Candidates said to be connected to the NPA have also been reported in the BATMAN-NAY (Bindoy, Ayungon, Tayasan, Manjuyod, and Mabinay) area as well as the province’s Third District.

The commander added that while the rebels are not likely to disrupt the elections on Monday, police and military visibility will be heightened in the said areas for security purposes.

However, he said that NPA rebels may possibly use the candidates allegedly linked to them to politicize the polls in favor of their cause.

“It is probable that the [NPA is] fielding their own candidates to perpetuate their control in these barangays [that are affected by them]… puwede nilang takutin ‘yung political rival ng kanilang sariling candidate,” Bañez said.

The Police Regional Office (PRO)-7 has also tagged Negros Oriental as a priority province in Central Visayas due to the province’s insurgency problem.

For his part, newly-installed Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office (NORPPO) Acting Director Senior Superintendent Raul Tacaca said their security plans are already in place, even if he assumed office just a few days before the May 14 polls.

“Nasa security plan na namin lahat. Wala namang madadagdagan o mababawasan sa plano namin dahil dati nang nakalatag ang mga iyon,” said Tacaca, fresh off his previous post as director of Zamboanga del Norte Provincial Police Office.

Tacaca was sworn in as NORPPO’s new acting director during a simple turnover ceremony at Camp Sergio Osmeña Sr. in Cebu City, officiated by PRO-7 director Chief Superintendent Robert Quenery. He replaced Senior Superintendent Edwin Portento, who is taking his new post as chief of the PNP’s Bids and Awards Committee at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

On his first day as NORPPO chief, Tacaca met with police, military, and election officials in a closed-door meeting Friday to finalize their preparations for Monday’s polls.

In Negros Oriental, there are 16,632 candidates hoping to win one of the 4,456 seats up for grabs in the province’s 554 barangays, data from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) showed.

Negros Oriental Provincial Election Supervisor Eddie Aba said he is confident that Tacaca is familiar with his new assignment.

“They (police officials) have already acquired enough experience. Any time or any place nga moadto sila, they know the battle field,” Aba said, adding that the Comelec in Negros Oriental is “all set” for Monday’s polls.

Aba, meanwhile, said his office has not yet received reports of election-related harassment in the province’s Third District, contrary to the claims made by Governor Roel Degamo during an interview with reporters on Wednesday. —KBK, GMA News