MASBATE CITY // The senior superintendent of police, Eddie Benigay, cuts a solitary figure sitting in his sparsely furnished office inside the police compound in Masbate City in the Philippines. When he was appointed in January by the Philippines national police chief, General Jesus Verzosa, as provincial director of Masbate, Senior Supt Benigay's orders were crystal clear: keep the May 10 elections clean.
Senior Supt Benigay's appointment did not sit well with many provincial politicians, least of all congressman Antonio Kho, who challenged the appointment, favouring Senior Supt Victor Sirena, who had been in the job for less than two months. A no-nonsense policeman, Senior Supt Benigay has worked closely with the Catholic Church to bring the various political families together to work towards a peaceful election. So far his work has met with some modest success, although many of the local political families refuse to sit at the same table as their opponents.
"The fact that they won't talk to each other makes the job just that little bit harder," Senior Supt Benigay said in an interview. "The culture here is one of fear, silence, indifference and violence," he said. "Local politicians here just don't kill one another at election time, they continue killing well after the elections are over. In Masbate, it is a winner-take-all mentality." This year, a gun ban has been put in place nationwide. It has kept armed men, known locally as "goons", off the streets. "The ban has been a big help,"Senior Supt Benigay said.
On April 27, Mr Kho handed over an assortment of 23 weapons, including two M-60 light machine guns, M-16s and grenade launchers, that had been handed in by his armed supporters. Mr Kho described the media event as a "show of my support for clean and fair elections." Few local people believed him. Senior Supt Benigay acknowledges that his approach to law and order has not endeared himself to many of the local politicians but said: "I am not here to serve them ? I am here to serve the people."
He is followed everywhere he goes, even within the police compound, by two armed police commandos. "It's a necessary precaution. Not long after I arrived our intelligence, people told me that one senior politician had put a contract out on me for 2 million pesos [Dh160,000]. I know who he is and he knows that I know. Not long after we heard that four goons arrived in Masbate. "Needless to say they only stayed a couple of days and left," he said, cracking a wry smile.
"Politicians here seem to think that they answer to no one, not even the people. I don't and won't play their game. The people of Masbate deserve better." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org