|LAGUNA AMBUSH. /VP Jejomar Binay visits Calauan Mayor Berris at an undisclosed hospital. Two companions of the mayor were killed in an ambush in his town.
By ALFRED G. GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE
MANILA (via PhilAmPress) – Campaigning by local candidates opened officially to a “bloody” start last week as a reelectionist mayor of Calauan town in Laguna was wounded and two of his companions, one of them a youth leader who is running for councilor in Calauan, were killed in an ambush in the town besides Los Banos on Black Saturday.
The killing prompted the Philippine National Police to step up its security campaign, especially police visibility, as the political cauldron heats up with the local campaign added to the campaign for president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives.
This developed as Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle warned candidates engaging in political mudslinging during the campaign.
In a report of the CBCPNews, the news service provider of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Tagle noted that there has been an increase in the incidents of political mudslinging in the recent months.
“There’s been a lot of mudslinging. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, come what may, as long as the rival is overthrown,” Tagle told hundreds of churchgoers at the Manila Cathedral.
CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, for his part, urged his fellow priests not “to allow the awards and titles, the position and the experience to blur our memory.”
Some 45,000 candidates are vying for 15,000 local posts in the May 9 elections such as governor, vice governor, city and municipal mayor and vice mayor and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Sangguniang Panglunsod and Sangguniang Bayan.
Candidates for some 200 congressmen also opened their 45-day campaign with the local candidates.
The 45-day local campaign period was supposed to start on March 25 but Comelec banned campaigning on March 24 and 25 in observance of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, respectively.
Despite the fact that almost 45 percent of the candidates are without opponents and are, therefore, virtual winners, the campaign is expected to heat up further as the local leaders begin to open up their alliances with their respective presidential candidates, vice presidential candidates and the candidates for 12 senators.
Among those unopposed are former President and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the second district of Pampanga, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda, Bataan Gov. Albert Garcia, Cavite gubernatorial candidate Crispin Remulla who substituted for his brother, outgoing Gov. Junvic Remulla,
In the congressional races in Metro Manila, six reelectionist candidates are running unopposed. They are Reps. Miro Quimbo (Marikina City, second district), Carlo Lopez (Manila, second district), Winnie Castelo (Quezon City, second district), Jorge Banal (Quezon City, third district), Alfred Vargas (Quezon City, fifth district) and Kit Belmonte (Quezon City, sixth district).
A total of 542 local candidates in the May 9 elections are assured of victory even before the official start of campaigning on Black Saturday as they are unopposed. The biggest number of unopposed candidates are in Ilocos Sur (25), Isabela (21), Ilocos Norte (19), Pangasinan (16), Apayao (11), and Cagayan and Pampanga (10 each).
The death of the two aides of Mayor Buenafrido Berris brought to about 30 the fatalities, some of them candidates, since the election season started several weeks ago.
Mayor Berris, who sustained gunshot wound in the chest, was rushed to a hospital in nearby San Pablo City but his companions, Emman Peña, a candidate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), and a driver, Leonardo Taningco, succumbed to gunshot wounds in a local hospital where they were rushed.
Vice President Jejomar Binay immediately condemned the attempted assassination of the mayor and killing of his two companions and visited Mayor Berris in the hospital.
Berris was initially taken to an undisclosed local hospital before he was transferred to a hospital in Metro Manila. It was gathered that he has been declared out of danger.
A member of the mayor’s family said the attack was “politically motivated” without elaborating.
Leaders of UNA described the ambush of Mayor Berris and the killing of youth leader Emman Coronado Pena as a cowardly and dastardly act meant to intimidate the political opposition.
“These unfortunate incidences of political violence has claimed the lives of people who despise violence. The atmosphere of carnage has become extremely callous and cruel. Calauan just lost a great future leader with the death of Emman Pena,” UNA spokesperson Ramon “Mon” Ilagan said.
“Ang maruming laro ng politika ay muling kumitil ng buhay sa tahimik na bayan ng Calauan. Isang patraydor na hakbang ng mga taong hindi kayang matanggap ang pagkatalo kaya dinadaan ang kanilang mensahe sa bala imbes na boto,” Ilagan said.
“Lubhang nalulungkot sa Vice President Jejomar Binay sa sunod-sunod na karahasan sa hanay ng mga miyembro at mga taga-suporta ng UNA. Mariing kinokondena namin ang pagpatay kay Emman at ang balak na pagpaslang kay Mayor Berris,” he added.
Pena was shot in the head while Berris was shot in the chest. The driver who was with them also died.
“Inihahatid ni Vice President Jejomar Binay ang kanyang pakikiramay sa pamilya at mga naiwang mahal sa buhay ni Emman at ang driver na nadamay sa insidente. Dalangin namin ang mabilis na paggaling ni Mayor Berris at kaisa ang UNA sa panawagan ng maagang pagdating ng hustisya sa mga biktima ng political violence,” he added.
Pena, 25, was a University of the Philippines Los Banos DevCom cum laude graduate in 2011 and a public school teacher.
Pena is the fourth UNA member killed since the start of the campaign, according to Ilagan.
The ambush prompted the Philippine National Police (PNP) to step up its security measures as it assured efforts to maintain peace and order in line with the onset of the campaign period for local candidates.
Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, PNP spokesman, confirmed that PNP Chief Police Director General Ricardo Marquez already directed policemen all over the country to strengthen their presence in public places as the rivalry between local candidates bets are expected to be more intense as compared to those running for national positions.
On the other hand, PNP still seeks help from the local government to participate and direct their force multipliers which includes barangay officials, non-government organizations, civic organizations and religious groups to report suspicious acts during the campaign period and on the exact day of the polls.
Moreover, Mayor said that the PNP will increase police visibility in election hotspots days before the May 9 elections.
Based on PNP’s list, the provinces of Masbate, Pangasinan, Negros Oriental, Samar, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur are identified as election hotspots.
Marquez said the six provinces will be the focus of the security operations aimed at curbing the outbreak of politics-related violence.
In addition, he said the PNP will be consistently monitoring other areas.
To prevent bloodshed in areas with intense political rivalry, Mayor said the police, military and Commission on Elections advocate mediation between contending parties.
According to Comelec records, aside from Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, those unopposed in the province are Vice Gov. Eugenio Barba, Banna Mayor Carlito Abadilla III, Batac City Vice Mayor Jeffrey Nalupta, Dingras Vice Mayor Joefrey Saguid, Dumalneg Mayor Lairvee Espiritu and Vice Mayor Francisco Espiritu Jr., Pinili Mayor Samuel Pagdilao Sr. and Laoag City Mayor Chevylle Fariñas.
In Ilocos Sur, those unopposed are Gov. Ryan Singson and Vice Gov. Jeremiah “Jerry” Singson, Alilem Mayor Mar Ruel Sumabat and Vice Mayor Onofre Bistoyong, and Magsingal Mayor Alrico Favis and his mother Vice Mayor Arlyn Favis.
In Southern Luzon, 11 candidates for congressional seats, led by Evelina Escudero of Sorsogon, mother of Sen. Francis Escudero, are running unopposed. Ten of these candidates are from Southern Tagalog and Escudero is the lone unopposed candidate for representative in the Bicol region.
In Cavite, candidates for four out of seven congressional districts are running unopposed. All of them are reelectionists, except for Bacoor City Mayor Strike Revilla, who is running for representative of the lone district of Bacoor. The three other unopposed candidates for representative are Alex Advincula (third district), Luis Ferrer IV (sixth district) and Abraham Tolentino (seventh district).
Tolentino is a brother of former Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino, who is running for senator. Tolentino’s wife, Agnes, is running unopposed as mayor of Tagaytay City.
Joaquin Chipeco Jr. will be on his second term as Laguna representative (second district) after two other candidates, withdrew their candidacies.
Three-term Sta. Rosa City Mayor Arlene Arcillas is the lone candidate for representative of Laguna’s first district.
In the Visayas, 51 candidates for congressional representative, mayor, vice mayor, governor and vice governor in Western, Central and Eastern Visayas as well as in Negros Island Region are running unopposed.
The lone unopposed candidate in Eastern Visayas is Vice Gov. Carlo Loreto of Leyte who is seeking reelection under the Liberal Party.
Reelectionist Rep. Arthur Defensor Jr. of Iloilo said he was glad to be running unopposed in the third congressional district. “In a way, it is a validation from my constituents that what I have been doing for them is satisfactory,” he said.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., is seeking a third term unopposed. His son, Sagay City Mayor Alfredo Marañon III and nephew, Rep. Rafael Leo Cueva of Negros Occidental’s second district, are likewise unopposed.
Three siblings in southern Negros Occidental are running unopposed under the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). They are Rep. Mercedes Alvarez of then sixth district and her brothers, Ilog Mayor Genaro Rafael Alvarez and Ilog Vice Mayor Paul Alvarez.
In several Mindanao areas, including those identified as among the country’s poorest provinces, members of old political clans and their allies are without challengers in May.