FOR the first time ever in the recent history of Cebu City elections, incidents of harassment and intimidation are coming to the fore.
Strafing incidents, burning of vehicle, alleged irregularities on the implementation of search warrants and physical harm involving Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) supporters have been reported.
The recent events prompted Osmeña to finally call for a news conference on Thursday, May 9, after nine months of shunning the media.
“There is a danger in life and property and apparently it will get worse. We want to assure that this will not hamper our result to maintain Cebu from terrorism. We have terrorism from the IS (Islamic State), now we have terrorism from the police. They have all the places covered even the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) is from Davao City,” Osmeña said.
The mayor, who is seeking another term this election, called the news conference hours after the private dump truck of Bonbon Barangay Captain Eduardo Cabriana, a known supporter of BOPK, was allegedly set on fire by unknown armed men past midnight of Thursday, May 9, 2019.
Since Wednesday afternoon, May 8, police presence outside the house of Department of General Services chief Ronald Malacora was also seen in Barangay Buot.
Despite the harassment, Osmeña said he is determined to report to the public what has been going on.
Osmeña said Police Major Chuck Barandog, the commander of the Cebu Mobile Force Company, who he identified as the right hand of Cebu City Police Director (CCPO) Royina Garma, went to the house of Cabriana demanding him to give half of his leaders to Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella, who is Osmeña's opponent in the mayoral race.
Barandog reportedly gave Cabriana a deadline of 7 p.m. that day. At 1:45 a.m. of May 9, Cabriana’s dump truck was set on fire.
“With all the “checkpoints” in the mountains, how could anyone get away with this without the police knowing? Do you not think we will find the truth Col. Garma?” Osmeña said.
In an affidavit he executed, Cabriana said he went to the office of Barandog last May 8 after his truck was apprehended.
Cabriana said he was instructed by Barandog to go the headquarters of Labella to get a tarpaulin and hang it in the barangay hall.
Because of the burning incident, Cabriana said he worried for his safety.
He said he was not even sure he'd still be alive to vote in the midterm elections on Monday, May 13.
He said he had decided to lay low from politics after he received a threat on his life last Feb. 2.
“The police here have been saying that Barandog was on the drug list, but Garma is the one apparently protecting him. So I’d like to ask Colonel Garma, are you trying to scare us? We’re not going to take this as cowards. I would be very ashamed to Cebuanos if I don’t stand up. Don’t push us,” Osmeña said.
In a separate interview, Malacora said he believes politics is behind the police presence outside his house.
Malacora said his father is a barangay councilor and is allied with BOPK.
“This is the first time that this happened. I am really worried especially with what’s happening in the mountain barangay like the strafing incidents. It’s normal that we’re worried with our security because I can’t remember any encounter with police,” he said.
Since Wednesday afternoon, May 8, police officers wearing camouflage uniforms were seen outside his house as captured by his security camera.
Initially, two police cars with body numbers 50 and 51 were seen outside his house.
Malacora said the two patrol cars arrived late afternoon but patrol car 51 left the area after his son told them he was asleep.
As of 7 p.m., Wednesday, Malacora said patrol car 50 was still parked outside his house.
As of 8 a.m., Thursday, May 9, three police officers were still outside his house.
By being the in charge of DGS, Malacora said he usually transacts with police officers regarding fuel allocation for their patrol cars.
“There is really no problem but what I’m wondering about is why they have to go to my house and stay there overnight until I left to report for work. Usually when they have requests, they usually visit me at my office,” he said.
Apart from these incidents, Osmeña said there were also incidents of stoning at the houses of his supporters, including his executive secretary, Catherine Yso.
Osmeña had lodged a complaint against Garma before the anti-graft office for alleged irregularities during the conduct of police operations and for the deaths of several individuals, including violation of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; the Revised Penal Code; grave misconduct; and gross neglect, among others, before the Office of the Ombudsman for Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices against Garma.
For his part, Police Brigadier General Debold Sinas, Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 director, denied the police were behind the burning.
Sinas said if Cabriana had evidence that would point to the police as responsible, then Cabriana should file a case so the PRO 7 could investigate.
He lamented that Osmeña's allies had been accusing police in Cebu City of harassment and yet they refused to cooperate in the investigation.
Sinas said he already tasked the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) 7 to look into the incident.
"Malay mo sila lang diay nagsunog. Tapos ang estorya nila nga naay armed group. Nganong dili man sila mo-cooperate sa police? (You never know, they may have set fire to the dumptruck. Then they're saying an armed group was responsible. But why wouldn't they cooperate with us?) If not, I could send CIDG to investigate the case. That is the forte of the CIDG,” Sinas said.
Barandog also denied that he or his men had anything to do with the burning of the truck.
“Hallucination nang iyaha (He's just hallucinating),” Barandog said, referring to the mayor's accusation that they were involved.
Meanwhile, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Acting Regional Director Veronico Petalcorin said their central office had received Osmeña's request to place Cebu City under Comelec control over allegations that local police had been harassing the mayor's allies and supporters.
However, they couldn't do what Osmeña wanted because it was too close to the elections.
He said declaring an area under Comelec control was not an easy process because the area had to be evaluated by police and other law enforcement agencies under the City Joint Security Control Center.
The grounds that may qualify for the declaration of Comelec control, based on Comelec Resolution Number 10481, include history or current intense political rivalry, presence of armed men and terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and proliferation of loose firearms, among others.
Petalcorin admitted that they weren't only looking at Osmeña's accusations against Garma, as they were also investigating reports that the mayor did not heed a Comelec checkpoint. (RVC, AYB)