Print Version    Email to Friend
First deaths of 2016 election season

MANILA (UCAN) : The May 2016 election campaign season claimed its first victim on the day that filing for a certificate of candidacy opened on October 12.

The first murder was recorded in Tungawan in the southern Philippines and two more followed almost immediately.

The mayor of Tungawan, Randy Climaco, became the first to surrender his life during the current election period when he was murdered by unidentified gunmen on the opening day of the season.

The second was the mayor of Butuan in Augusan del Sur, Dario Otaza, a former guerilla with the New People’s Army, who was kidnapped along with his 27-year-old son as they left their home on the evening of October 19.

The following morning their bodies were found hogtied with multiple gunshot wounds.

The presidential spokesperson, Herminio Coloma, called the murders of the Otazas a cowardly act, while the Claretian priests condemned the murder of Climaco as “an act of no less than evil savagery of people without souls.”

The missionary society said in a statement on October 15, “We are outraged, appalled and anguished by the barbaric assassination.”

Otaza quit his guerilla life and came down from the mountains to surrender to the government in 1986.

He was elected mayor of Loreto Town in 2013, after becoming a vocal critic of the rebel movement and the Catholic Church, which he accused, along with human rights advocates, of being Communist sympathisers and supporters.

He vowed to wipe out the rebel movement around his area and in turn, the rebels accused him of running a reign of terror among the Manobo communities.

He is believed to be one of the powers behind the Bagani paramilitary movement that eye witnesses say was responsible for the execution of three tribal leaders in Liagga Town on September 1.

In 2013, the New People’s Army vowed to carry out punitive action against the enemies of the people, like Otaza.

Coloma presented Otaza in a different light, calling him an invaluable partner for peace.

“His programmes to ensure that former rebels have the means to lead dignified lives as part of mainstream society have encouraged many insurgents to lay down their arms,” he said.

Violence is one of the hallmarks of Philippine elections and in August the bishops called on people “to be actively engaged in the apostolate of evangelising the political order.”

During 2013 midterm elections, at least seven people were reported to have been killed on polling day alone, while at least 60 people were murdered in the lead-up to the elections.

In the 2010 national elections, the town of Tungawan was identified as a primary area of concern by the government.

Climaco, however, was a far less controversial character and widely respected as a builder of community.

He was part of a three-vehicle convoy that was ambushed in the village of Cayamcam after attending a festival.

Claretian Father Larry Lorenzo said the mayor’s “tolerance for our cry for communitarian peace and reconciliation was most commendable, in a small rural town beset by fear and violence.”

He added, “We have a few differences in matters of principle, but we remained friends.”

The Claretians described Climaco as a father to the community. 

They said in a statement, “He was a brother to us Claretians... His heart was like ours, for he was moved with the same fire of love for the people of Tungawan. His mission was one with us to create a better place to live and call Tungawan our home.”