Solons wary: Poll bets ‘open targets’

Lawmakers complained Monday that their security details were being pulled out just as the threats against their lives increased due to the coming elections.

In a hearing conducted by the House committee on public order and safety, the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Commission on Elections were asked to exempt security personnel from the ban on the carrying of firearms during the election period.

“Now is election season. Politicians, candidates are open targets,” said Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel. 

“Candidates are being killed just like ordinary chickens, then here you come, PNP and Comelec, making it hard for us candidates to [be provided with] security personnel.”

In other developments related to political killings:

• In the Senate, the PNP rejected an assertion by senatorial candidate Glenn Chong that his aide Richard Santillan was kidnapped, tortured and killed on Dec. 10 in an armed encounter in Cainta, Rizal, saying the armed encounter was part of a legitimate police operation.

Testifying before Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson, Supt. Joseph Arguelles of Police Regional Office 4-A denied Chong’s allegations.

• The Commission on Elections said Monday it will not declare Quezon City an election hot spot despite the killing of Barangay Bagong Silangan chairman Crisell “Beng” Beltran and her driver Melchor Salita.

In a News to Go television interview on GMA-7, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said Quezon City could only be placed under an area of concern if it had met the requirements needed for it.

Also, Beltran’s family appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte for help bring justice to the slain official. The family aired its appeal also on News To Go.

He said there was still a need for a recommendation from the local Comelec officials and the Philippine National Police before the Comelec could take an appropriate action.

Beltran was on board her Ford Everest van being driven by Salita when six armed men shot them to death on Jan. 31 at around 11:33 a.m. along J.P. Rizal Street in Barangay Bagong Silangan. At least four people were hurt during the incident. 

Pimentel, who sponsored a resolution calling for action by the two agencies, said former lawmaker Eufranio Eriguel might not have been killed last year if his security personnel had not been pulled out.

Mayoralty candidate and late Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe was ambushed and killed in December along with his bodyguard, SPO2 Orlando Diaz. The Comelec then placed Daraga under its control.

“Political candidates are being killed, and there would be more, I assure you, if we will not be given security personnel, said Pimentel, who lamented the pullout of security details in his province two weeks ago following an order of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

But Director General Rey Lyndon Lawas, chief of the PNP Directorate for Operations, told the panel the decision to pull out the security detail of public officials during election season was in compliance with a Comelec order.

“Comelec Resolution 10446... prescribes that during [the] election period which covers Jan. 13 to June 12, the carrying, bearing and transporting of firearms is not allowed. That would include security or bodyguards,” Lawas said.

Gwyn Calibuyot, a Comelec lawyer, added that the poll body’s resolution was based on Section 12 of RA 7166, an act providing for the synchronized national and local elections.

“Under that said provision, it is said that during the election period, no candidate for public office, including incumbent public officers seeking election to any public office, shall employ, avail himself or engage the services of security personnel or bodyguards,” Calibuyot said.

“He (Chong) alleged that there was no shootout that transpired. For us, indeed it was a shootout. Evidence shows two bullet holes were sustained in the front bumper of the SWAT mobile of Cainta police station,” Arguelles said.

He said Santillan was able to fire shots while outside the vehicle where he eventually died.

The result of trajectory of bullets from Rizal provincial crime laboratory also showed that Santillan was moving from the driver side to the passenger side of the vehicle while the firefight was ongoing.

He also cited the sworn statement of Grab driver Ramelito delas Alas that while he was driving his car, he suddenly slowed down when the tricycle in front of them stooped and heard a gunfire then a burst of gunfire.

Chong, a former congressman, alleged during the hearing that Santillan was killed to intimidate him.

He also alleged that the weapons found on Chong—a .45 caliber pistol, a 38 revolver and a fragmentation grenade—were planted.

Chief Supt. Edward Carranza, PNP-Region IV-commander, said the crime laboratory autopsy showed that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the head, thorax, abdomen and extremities—and not torture, as Chong suggested.

At the start of the hearing, Lacson described as “very alarming” the significant increase in the number of fatalities of election-related violence.

“What’s with the title ‘congressman,’ ‘mayor,’ or even ‘barangay captain’ that motivates the election-related violence and killings? Are these deaths the result of a political rival’s eagerness to genuinely serve the public? That seems a horrible thought. Of course, the answer is no,” he said.

Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Bernardo Florence said that based on the matrix provided to them by the PNP from July 1, 2016 to Jan. 29, 2019, a total of 12 mayors have been slain. He also said seven vice mayors have also been killed during the same period.

“In total, we have 12 incidents for mayor, for vice mayor we have seven, or a total of 19,” Bernardo said.

Lacson said there was a need to discuss possible legislative measures or amendments to existing laws to address the rise in election-related violence.

“We should start with having the same mindset that armed violence is already rooted in the culture of our society, and it happens even outside the election period,” he said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rio N. Araja

Topics: Commission on Elections , Department of the Interior and Local Government , Johnny Pimentel
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