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By Donna S. Cueto, Edwin O. Fernandez and Charlie C. Señase
PDI Mindanao Bureau

COTABATO CITY—The Armed Forces in Mindanao are on red alert, the Southern Command chief said yesterday while one more province and 13 other towns, where election-related violence threatens to disrupt Monday's elections, had been placed under Comelec control.

The Commission on Elections ordered police to seize all firearms, licensed or unlicensed and cancel gun ban exemptions in the controlled areas.

Two more candidates and four of their companions were wounded in attacks by gunmen yesterday--a local council candidate in Sultan Kudarat and a reelectionist mayor in Mindoro in Luzon.

Lt. Gen. Joselin Nazareno, commander of the Southern Command, announced the Mindanao red alert.

Troops in the region are not allowed to take a leave of absence, according to him.

Nazareno had declared on Wednesday ''there will be no failure of elections'' in Mindanao.

About 1,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine brigade have been deployed since Tuesday in ''areas of immediate concerns'' in Maguindanao where violence is likely to erupt.

Army Maj. Rosque Garingalao, spokesman of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, has earlier said all the 19 towns of Maguindanao had been placed on the Comelec's watch list.

Yesterday, the Comelec placed Lanao del Sur and 13 towns, including 11 in Maguindanao, under its direct control because of intense political rivalry and violent election-related incidents.

The number of ''hot spots'' nationwide now total 33 and is still expected to increase as election day nears.

Comelec Chair Bernardo Pardo identified the new Comelec-controlled areas as the town of Cabuyao in Ilocos Sur, and Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, and 11 towns in Maguindanao.

The Maguindanao towns are Datu Piang, Ampatuan, Sarip Aguak Datu Piang, Sultan sa Barongis, Kabuntalan, Buluan, Datu Odin Sinsuat, a component city of Cotabato, Talayan, Pagalungan and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

Nineteen ''hot spots'' earlier placed under Comelec control include Pasay City and Makati in Metro Manila.

Serious and prepared
''We are serious in making sure there would be peaceful, honest and orderly elections on May 11,'' said Pardo. ''We are prepared now than ever.''

He ordered the chief of the Philippine National Police and the police regional directors to ''confiscate all firearms, licensed or unlicensed'' in the controlled areas.

Gun ban exemptions granted to candidates and other government officials and their bodyguards have been revoked.

He also ordered the PNP chief to cancel all permits to carry firearms outside houses of all residents in the Comelec-controlled areas.

The Comelec is preparing to send composite teams to these areas to ''exercise direct and immediate control and supervision over all (Comelec) field offices and personnel.''

The composite teams will take direct control and disposition of vehicles and transportation facilities, equipment and firearms belonging to the police, agencies and other instrumentalities.

They are also tasked to prevent civilian vigilante units, barangay tanod and private security agencies from being used as private armies, engaging in partisan political activities or acts
of violence on May 11.

Comelec control will continue until the end of election period on June 10, unless sooner lifted by the poll body.

Third incident
In Maguindanao's Sultan Kudarat town, unidentified men in a car yesterday fired at the group of Idon Utto, a candidate for councilor under the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino.

Utto, 39, campaigner Junior Datumanong, 30, and mechanic Buat Kasan, 65, suffered several gunshot wounds and were taken to the Cotabato Emergency Hospital.

It was the third election-related violence in Maguindanao since the start of the campaign period on March 28.

On Sunday, four men shot to death Hadji Abdulhaqq Balabaran, National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections chair in Datu Piang town.

Two weeks ago, gunmen killed Kusin Mamansal, Lakas candidate for councilor in Pagalungan town.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., Namfrel's Maguindanao chair and co-chair in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, told the Inquirer yesterday their own investigation showed Balabaran's killing was ''an isolated case'' and ''it cannot be established the killing is election-related.''

Mercado's quick response team said there was ''no basis'' for Datu Piang town to be placed under Comelec control. According to Mercado, the town is ''generally peaceful'' and the incumbent mayor is running unopposed.

Situation manageable
Despite the killings, Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza said the Mindanao situation was still manageable. 

He said the incidents were isolated cases that would not disrupt the elections in Mindanao.

''We will not allow these isolated incidents to disrupt the peaceful and orderly conduct of balloting on Monday,'' Dureza declared.

''If there are alleged shootings there, an ambush here and a bombing there . . . I believed these are triggered by personal grudges and family feuds,'' he said.

In San Teodoro, Mindoro, Lakas-NUCD reelectionist Mayor Oscar Aldaba and his supporters were ambushed late yesterday by suspected New People's Army rebels in Barangay Calangatan.

Sketchy reports reaching the Mindoro capital of Calapan City said Aldaba and two others were wounded when their vehicle was fired upon while they were on their way to the proclamation rally of the Lakas-NUCD.

On April 22, two masked men shot to death Laurencio Lopez, 53, also in San Teodoro. The opposition LAMMP claimed Lopez was one of its leaders, but Aldaba said Lopez, being an Iglesia
ni Cristo member, was non-partisan.

In Davao City, the local Namfrel chair, Fr. Leonardo Dublan, appealed to government leaders to refrain from issuing statements that undermined Monday's elections.

ARMM Gov. Nur Misuari had said Wednesday that ''on May 11, even rats, dead people, dogs and cats and even centipedes could vote because it seemed even these creatures registered.''

Dublan said the statement conditioned the mind of the people that there would indeed be cheating and violence.

Misuari had asked the Comelec to postpone the elections in Sulu's 18 towns and other parts of the region where the voters' list had been heavily padded.

ARMM consists of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.

Vision 2000, the Davao City chapter of Namfrel, cancelled its poll watch activities in some parts of the city's Marilog district where 10 people were killed in encounters between government troops and suspected NPA rebels Saturday and Sunday.

Father Dublan, who is also Vision 2000 secretary general, said the withdrawal of the poll watch volunteers was not likely to affect the result of the elections in the city. The areas affected by the clashes have only about seven precincts and 300 voters.

The military earlier reported that eight alleged rebels, a government soldier and a 13-year-old boy were killed in the Marilog clashes.

Hot line
The militant Davao City Public Elementary and Secondary Teachers Association, which claims 3,000 members, will set up a hotline center on Monday for teachers doing poll duties.

The association would also provide lawyers to teachers who are charged with failing to attend to their poll duties, said Nicanor Gonzales, secretary general of the militant Kahugpungan sa mga Magtutudlo ug Kawani sa Edukasyon sa Mindanao (Kamkem).

The Teachers' Hotline Center will be on the second floor of the Davao Student Center on Claro M. Recto Street. The hotline numbers are 227-5091 and 222-3690.

Jowel F. Canuday, Ferdinand Balino, Grace C. Albasin, PDI Mindanao Bureau; Joel J. Jabal



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