BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Abra town executives led by League of Mayors’ President and re-elected La Paz town mayor Joseph Sto Nino Bernos downplayed reports that the province has become a “ghost town” after the May 13 polls.
Reacting to reports on television and newspapers about poll-related violence, Bernos said that “not a single shooting or poll related killing occurred” in the area.
Although admitting that there were heightened tensions among rivals and their supporters before and during the elections, no untoward incident or actual violence happened, Bernos said.
An alleged supporter of a losing mayoral bet in Abra was gunned down before the elections in Bangued, but authorities doubt it was poll-related as victim was allegedly involved in drug trafficking.
Bernos added that the “voters turn-out (80 percent) was tremendously high in his hometown.
Some reports claimed that losing politicians who allegedly bought votes for P3,000 each might vent their ire on opponents or even “paid voters”, prompting most to hide or even flee the province.
Bernos, however, denied that there was vote-buying in the province.
The Cordillera police claimed that out of the six partisan armed groups in the Cordillera (mostly in Abra), only one has remained.
At the exit assessment of conduct of the May 13 polls here, authorities describedlast Monday’s elections in the highland region as “generally peaceful” even with reports of defective PCOS machines, some shootings and intense political rivalries in the provinces.
Authorities attributed the peaceful polls to a four-pronged strategy in place a year before the elections, said Cordillera police director Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong.
“Lahat di makapaniwala na halos walang nangyari,” Mayor Bernos said.
The four-phase strategy which was formulated in consultation with stakeholders to address the fragile situation in the region started with the identification of critical issues and concerns and pursued through sustainable action plans, said Magalong.
Since the start of the gun ban, authorities recorded a yield of 80 assorted firearms, 73 of which were confiscated and seven were recovered.
At least 96 persons were arrested and 77 cases for violation of the gun ban were lodged in different courts.
Magalong said, a critical component of the strategy that contributed much to the dousing of tension between feuding politicians in Abra and Kalinga is the Conflict Mediation and Diffusion (CMD).
“It is an innovation in peacekeeping and a venue where contending parties are allowed to ventilate their emotions, sentiments, and impressions by openly and freely bringing out personal as well as political issues against each other in a 3-4 hour session”. We employed ‘active listening skills (ALS)’ and kept in order a free for-all discussion. In fact, 11 sessions that were held between political rivals in Abra and Kalinga ended with meaningful handshakes and hugs, Magalong said.
The Cordillera police also attributed as the most important factor that led to peaceful polls in the region, “is the involvement of the private sectors like the Abra Convenors Group, the help and cooperation extended by the religious sectors, the objective media reporting, and the neutrality displayed by the police.”
At least 3,744 PNP and Army personnel were deployed for poll duties in 1, 370 polling places in the whole highland region. – Artemio A. Dumlao