Ex-UN peacekeepers comprise new Army battalion deployed to Masbate
By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated April 15, 2010 12:00 AMhttp://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=566496&publicationSubCategoryId=67
MANILA, Philippines - A new battalion composed largely of former United Nations
(UN) peacekeepers was activated yesterday by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to provide security to the province of Masbate.
AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said the 85th Infantry Battalion is composed of 250 soldiers, 190 of whom were members of UN peacekeeping teams deployed in Liberia and Haiti.
“They will now be assigned to Masbate as part of the military’s duty to assist the Comelec (Commission on Elections) in the upcoming May elections, applying the principles of peacekeeping they learned from their previous assignment,” he said.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr. said the battalion, which will be supervised by the 2nd Infantry Division, will also sustain the military’s efforts to address the communist insurgency in Masbate.
The battalion will be led by Col. Lope Dagoy, who headed the 10th UN peacekeeping team to Haiti. The team was in the Caribbean country when a 7.0 earthquake killed thousands of people last January.
The other members of the battalion came from the 12th Philippine contingent to Liberia and the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division based at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.
Maj. Gen. Romulo Supapo, Army vice commander, directed the new battalion to ensure a peaceful conduct of the May 10 elections and maintain strong ties with all stakeholders in Masbate.
“Develop and maintain strong and sincere partnership with the local government and other inter-agency partners. They are our strong link that could greatly help us in attaining our common vision of securing a peaceful and developed community,” he said during the send-off ceremonies for the battalion at Fort Bonifacio yesterday.
“We must remain non-partisan and assure the voting public of a safe and peaceful election. The people of Masbate expect your active role in protecting the sanctity of the ballot,” he added.
From Taguig, the battalion proceeded to Sangley Point in Cavite where they boarded Navy ships.
Last February, the defense department cited the prevailing lawlessness in Masbate, where private armies are said to be prevalent.
Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said the province is suffering from “politicized law enforcement” and a “paralyzed criminal justice system.”
Local security forces have reported that local politicians are expanding their armed groups to prepare for the upcoming polls. They are said to be recruiting armed men from other parts of the Bicol region, Metro Manila, Iloilo and some parts of Mindanao to beef up their security.
Violent incidents continued to take place in the province even after the signing of a peace covenant by local candidates last February.