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Maguindanao Massacre

132 private armed groups exist nationwide - DND chief

December 8, 2009 6:15pm
There are at least 132 armed groups connected to political clans in the country, most of them in Mindanao, according to Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales.

Gonzales said these private armed groups – composed of more or less 10,000 men - could be used by several candidates to intimidate their opponents in next year’s elections. He did not identify the politicians who are maintaining these armed groups.

“I think there is a tendency by some of our local candidates to engage again [in] their habits of using violence to ensure their victory in 2010," he told reporters at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) main office in Manila Tuesday.

“We cannot allow that to happen," he added.

Gonzales dropped by the Comelec office to discuss with officials the conduct of next year’s elections in Maguindanao province, now under martial law following the turmoil caused by the massacre of 57 people, including women and journalists, there last November 23.

He added a total gun ban should be instituted during next year’s polls to prevent these armed groups from sowing fear among voters.

Heavily armed

Citing a military report, Gonzales said these groups are in possession of high-powered firearms as evidenced by the armaments uncovered in Maguindanao recently.

The discovered firearms in Maguindanao allegedly belonged to the private armies of the powerful Ampatuan clan, who is being linked to the Nov. 23 mass killing.

He said these politically-connected armed groups may be in possession of some of the more than 800,000 unaccounted firearms in the country.

Gonzales said they are currently making a city-per-city and a province-per-province assessment in Mindanao to gather more information about the armed groups and their weaponry.

“It is normal for the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the police to monitor armed groups wherever they are. What I’m trying to do now is put this all together and convert it into a plan," he said.

Crackdown

Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa has ordered tactical police units to go after private armies in their jurisdictions.

In a directive to the Directorate for Operations, Verzosa instructed the PNP Regional and Provincial Mobile Groups to dismantle and neutralize all known private armed groups that are widely believed protected by local warlords and politicians.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Victor Ibrado had earlier said that at least 2,000 members of Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVO) were monitored to have been massing up in different areas near Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao.

He said they would launch a military operation if these men would not surrender together with their firearms.

The CVOs were reportedly under the command of former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who is facing rebellion charges in connection with his private army that was allegedly planning to act independently of the government.

"I have designated the Regional and Provincial Mobile Groups to spearhead our campaign to run after and dismantle all private armed groups in the country, especially in places considered by the PNP as election areas of concern," he said. - KBK, GMANews.TV



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