THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Eastern Visayas has declared the entire province of Northern Samar as area of immediate concern less than a week before the May 13, 2013 midterm elections.
With this declaration, security in the province was beefed up to prevent any possible untoward incidents during the elections, Comelec Acting Regional Director Veronico Petalcorin said.
Northern Samar is composed of 24 towns with a voter population of more than 375,200.
Petalcorin said that while Northern Samar has been earlier tagged as a possible area where election violence could erupt, the incident in Victoria town hastened its declaration as an immediate concern.
Last May 2, two gunmen shot and wounded suspended Mayor Jose Ardales and his son just outside their residence at Poblacion, Barangay Zone 1, with politics as the possible motive.
The Comelec has declared the incident as the first election-related violence in Eastern Visayas.
The intense political rivalries among candidates were the reason cited in the declaration of the province as an area of immediate concern.
"And there are reports of presence of armed men in the province (which could affect the conduct of a peaceful elections)," Petalcorin said.
He also said that the armed men reported to be present in province could either be members of private armed groups being maintained by certain politicians or members of the rebel group, the New People's Army.
With the augmentation of police and Army personnel in the province, any moves by these armed groups could be neutralized, Petalcorin said.
"We are just trying to be proactive," he said.
Petalcorin also appealed to the candidates not to resort to any harassments or violence just to win votes.
"If they want to be fair, allow the people whom they want to vote. That they win because the people voted them and not because they used violence," he said.
Earlier, the regional Philippine National Police deployed 216 policemen coming from its regional headquarters to Northern Samar province as peace-keeping force relative to the conduct of the midterm elections next week.
Captain Amado Gutierrez, spokesperson of the 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan City, said they have enough force in Northern Samar to secure its people during the balloting.
There are more than 1,000 soldiers currently assigned across the province under the 803rd Infantry Brigade, which is based at the provincial capital of Catarman and under the command of Colonel Rolando Malinao. (Leyte Samar Daily Express)