DAGUPAN CITY — The presence of 33 criminal gangs and two private armies were among the risk factors considered by the higher office of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in placing Pangasinan as one of the nine provinces in the whole country under the election watch list.
This was according to Senior Supt. Edgar Allan Okubo, officer-in-charge of the Pangasinan Police Office (PPO) who, however, clarified that though in the watchlist, Pangasinan is not considered a “hotspot”.
Addressing participants of the “Alay Pangasinan” Unity Walk that gathered at the premises of the Saint John Metropolitan Cathedral on Friday, Okubo however said that Pangasinan remains peaceful and orderly today despite these risk factors.
Incidentally, only a few candidates attended the Unity Walk and the subsequent act of leaving palm print in a black tablet installed in a platform.
They were Atty. Eric Acuna and Christopher de Venecia, candidates for congressman in the third and fourth districts of Pangasinan; Mayor Belen Fernandez and many of her candidates for councilor.
Okubo said all these threat groups are being monitored closely by the police so that they can not move, hinder and pose a threat to the holding of clean, honest, accurate and meaningful election in Pangasinan.
In a talk to newsmen later after his speech, Okubo admitted the 33 criminal gangs under watch are either engaged in guns-for-hire, illegal drugs and robbery all over Pangasinan.
He confirmed that one member of the Alakdan gun-for-hire group in Nueva Ecija was arrested with the help of civilians in San Nicolas town last week while reportedly shadowing the group of Mayor Rebecca Saldivar while she was campaigning house-to-house.
Okubo said the police are currently validating reports the suspect was under the employ of a politician in Pangasinan in this election.
He admitted that the number one reason Pangasinan was placed under the watchlist is the presence of intense political rivalry among the candidates.
Although he did not mention it, this may be due to the heated political showdown of former allies, Governor Amado Espino Jr. and former fifth district congressman Mark Cojuangco.
Espino is now running for congressman in the fifth district of Pangasinan against Mark’s wife, Rep. Kimi Cojuangco while the governor’s son and namesake Amado “Pogi” Espino III is running against Mark for the governorship of Pangasinan.
Provincial Elections Supervisor Joel Gines said no incident of violence has ever happened yet between the two political factions, except the occasional reports of destruction of each other’s campaign posters and also alleged vote-buying in some areas by each group.
The OIC police provincial director said the election -related incidents that happened in the 2010 and 2013 elections where some municipal and barangay officials were killed were also considered in placing Pangasinan under the watchlist in this election
Okubo also revealed that although Pangasinan is now considered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as insurgency-free, the leftist Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front were reported to have encroached the borders of Pangasinan with Nueva Vizcaya and Nueva Ecija in the east and the province’s borders with Tarlac and Zambales in the south and west.
Okubo said despite these risk factors in this election, the police as well as the AFP are ready to thwart any attempt to disrupt the peaceful conduct of this year’s polls.
He said at least 260 policemen from the Police Regional Office 1 (PRO1) are set to be deployed in Pangasinan in a few days to support the more than 2,000 that are based in Pangasinan.
But he said this is not enough considering the size of the province, thus Camp Crame, is sending 450 more.
These do not include the augmentation forces from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), a part of which were the Philippine Army contingents, already arrived Wednesday night and fanned out to the different watchlist areas.
The Commission on Elections said there are now only 16 towns and cities of Pangasinan under the watchlist but Okubo on Friday said there are still 21.
He mentioned only five on top of the list–Bayambang, Malasiqui, San Carlos City, Urbiztondo and Rosales.
Okubo said that in this election, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPRCV) is helping the Comelec and the police in keeping watch on this election.
At the same time, at least 90 percent of the candidates of Pangasinan already signed a peace covenant initiated by PPRCV and the various Catholic dioceses in Pangasinan.
He deployed additional policemen in Urbiztondo due to reports that some men on board motorcycles were threatening barangay officials supporting another candidate. PNA/northboundasia.com