Who to protect this May: Mayors or voters?

By Marlon Alexander Luistro

The Filipino Connection


BATANGAS CITY—In the lead-up to May 2013, residents and local chief executives are playing tug-of-war over armed men who are wearing blue, and who are both their vanguards of daily public safety and electoral serenity.

So even if the provincial, city and municipal police forces were rocked earlier this year given the Atimonan, Quezon shootout between allegedly warring jueteng factions, town mayors are not getting any police protection —policemen as bodyguards— since an already-enforceable resolution by the national Commission on Elections (Comelec) disallows it.

Comelec Resolution 9608 ordered the recall of police escorts of this province’s mayors when the election period began last Jan. 13.

Then fear set in onto these local chief executives of a province whom many local police authorities said the forthcoming elections will be “peaceful.”

“We’re not ordinary people, we’re incumbent mayors,” Mayor Randy Amo of Laurel town told attendees of the provincial peace and order council here Feb. 4. “Without these escorts, we might as well be afraid to get out of our homes.”

Yet local residents of the country’s eighth richest provincial voting bloc welcomed Comelec’s move as the passport to a safer electoral exercise this May.

“Like it or not, these bodyguards are being used in the elections,” 58-year-old Ronald Magsino of Lipa City told The Filipino Connection. “Often, it is not the candidates themselves but their bodyguards who quarrel and are the source of turmoil (in the elections).”

Gado Laguerda, 41, also believes removing the mayors’ bodyguards will promote a more peaceful election, saying, “The only reason why politicians are brave is because they have bodyguards and their guns.”

Incumbent mayors think policemen must not only serve as peace-keepers but as their security escorts as well, especially  in the coming elections at a province that’s regarded by the national Comelec as a “hotspot”.

Given Resolution 9608, only incumbent members of the House of Representatives and provincial governors (whether or not they are running for re-election or another elective office) shall be allowed to retain the services of up to two police security escorts. These two escorts were previously assigned to these elected officials a year before Resolution 9608 was promulgated.

But subject to Comelec’s approval, candidates for other local elective positions are allowed a maximum of two security personnel from duly licensed private detective agencies and accredited private security agencies. These candidates must apply first before the Comelec’s Regional

Joint Security Center.

Based on Comelec’s records, only two of the 34 incumbent mayors, namely San Juan Mayor Rodolfo Manalo and Talisay Mayor Zenaida Mendoza, have applied for security escorts.

Pending their application, the Comelec would assign two temporary 30-day security escorts for these two mayors until their two permanently detailed bodyguards are assigned. Five other private

individuals also applied for security details in the coming elections but Comelec denied all of their applications.

“Under the Civil Service Law, police officials are barred from taking part in any partisan political activity, and that’s one of the reasons why we recalled security details (for incumbent officials),”

explained Provincial Election Supervisor Gloria Ramos–Petallo.

Provincial Prosecutor Lourdes Zapanta adds what the resolution prohibits is for a mayor to avail services of the policemen as “personal bodyguards.” Though, the resolution doesn’t exactly prevent the mayors from asking for police assistance.

Yet for the incumbent mayors, there lies the conundrum surrounding the spirit of the Comelec resolution.

Amo said the recall of police bodyguards might in a way affect the performance of their regular functions or duties as elected officials. “The problem is the mayor’s function is not only concentrated with the election campaign.”

“Policemen are also our partners in our fight against crimes such as illegal drugs. Are we (mayors) not entitled to avail of their security when our own lives are in danger?”

Mayors Anthony Andal of Alitagtag and Ryanh Dolor of Bauan also find it “absurd” to fully entrust their security to a private security agency especially since they don’t even personally know these escorts. “Is there a way by which we can choose from the local police who our escorts would be,” Dolor pleaded.

Lobo Mayor Efren Diona has a suggestion: “Why don’t we just give all the candidates police escorts? I’m sure nobody will complain.”

But outside of that provincial peace and order meeting, streets where lawless elements roam around, tricycle drivers like a 47-year-old gentleman who requested anonymity was adamant.

“Police are supposed to protect civilians not the politicians. They are supposed to go after criminals and drug addicts, and curb jueteng —not to act as security escorts.”

Yet for as long as incumbents haven’t done anything wrong, “there’s nothing to be afraid of,” says Magsino.” Only those who do misdeeds will hide under the cloak of gun protection.”#