POLITICIANS from Samar have crossed party lines to neutalize private armed groups throughout the province, but particularly in the capital Calbayog City, officials said Wednesday.
Samar Rep. Edgar Sarmiento and Calbayog City Mayor Ronaldo Aquino, both politically at odds with Samar Gov. Sharee Anne Tan-Delos Santos and family, together with the mayors of the towns of Gandara, San Jorge, Matuguinao and Sta. Margarita have signed a covenant declaring their commitment to support ongoing efforts by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to dismantle private armed groups in the province.
During the signing of the covenant last week, Tan-Delos Santos hoped the creation of Cagamas would check the proliferation of private armed groups in the province where previous campaigns have failed.
The AFP and the PNP have formed a Joint Task Force called Cagasmas aimed at disarming and dismantling private armed groups in Samar, previously known as western Samar.
The Joint Task Force was created following an appeal of Sarmiento who sent a letter and a manifesto to the PNP and AFP leadership calling for an end to the rash of killings allegedly perpetrated by private armed groups in the province, particularly in Calbayog City.
Sarmiento said in just six weeks since August, six barangay officials have been killed by armed groups in Calbayog City.
Police Regional Office 8 Director C/Supt. Elmer Beltejar said the joint task force would lead to the creation of so-called “focus units” whose sole mission was to hunt down the private armed groups in Samar, particularly in Calbayog City.
Along with the launching of Cagasmas, which covers Calbayog and the towns of Gandara, San Jorge, Matuguinao and Sta. Margarita, was the signing of a peace covenant among local government officials to support and cooperate with the task force in their campaign to end the existence of private armed groups in Samar.
AFP Central Command Chief Lt. Gen. Raul Del Rosario said President Rodrigo Duterte has issued a directive for the AFP-CentCom to accelerate the campaign against the armed groups.
Del Rosario lamented the problem on armed groups in Samar had stunted its progress despite its potential as a major food and tourism hub.
But he noted the armed groups could only be dismantled if the military and police were supported and the former not given refuge by their political patrons.
A report prepared by Col. Mario Lacurom, Brigade commander of the Philippine Army’s 803rd Brigade, and Samar Provincial Police Office Acting Director Sr. Supt. Elmer Pelobello, showed that from January up to September alone, 38 shooting incidents perpetrated by alleged members of armed groups have been reported and 21 people, most of them village leaders, have been killed.
Sarmiento, a first termer, said “I fully support Joint Task Force Cagasmas... This is a positive step towards true and sustainable development in Samar.”
She noted previous similar campaigns have failed to produce any positive result.
Matuguinao Mayor Melissa Dela Cruz said she was supporting Cagasmas, expressing fear she might end up like her father and uncle who were murdered by private armed groups.