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Winnie Monsod

Private armies and free elections

February 11, 2010 3:15pm
(Following is the transcript of the segment “Analysis by Winnie Monsod” which aired on News on Q on February 8, 2010. Prof. Winnie Monsod is the resident analyst of News on Q which airs weeknights at 9:30 PM on Channel 11.)

As we draw nearer to election day, so many issues are cropping up that catch the public's attention – particularly those dealing with the success or failure of automated elections.

Let us make sure, however, that we do not miss the forest for the trees.

As Article II, Section 1 of our Constitution says, sovereignty resides in the people, and all government authority emanates from them.

This sovereignty is exercised by means of suffrage – which is the right and obligation of qualified citizens to vote for their national and local officials, as well as in the decision of public questions submitted to them.

The election involves voting and then counting (and canvassing), and if these two procedures go well, then, the people's choice will indeed come out.

But there is a problem.

Even as the people express their will through the ballot, that expression can – and has been –subverted many times.

When and how can this subversion take place?

At two points during the election process: During the voting, and during the counting/canvassing, that's when.

And how? The expression “guns, goons, and gold” says it all.

The subversion can be accomplished either by force – "guns and goons"; or by bribery – "gold"; or some combination of both.

The guns and goons are the private armies, which have been part of the Philippine scene for at least the past 60 years, and have figured tragically and prominently in elections.

What else do we know about private armies?

1. They operate with the blessings, or the active participation of military and police elements, which in turn may be because of the explicit or implicit blessings of Malacañang.

Take the case of Negros Occidental governor Rafael Lacson, circa 1951, who reputedly had a 1,000-man private army and claimed closeness to the President Elpidio Quirino, claiming to have been instrumental in quirino's election.

Governor Lacson was enraged when a guerilla fighter, Moises Padilla defied him and ran for mayor.

Even though Padilla lost the election, he was arrested on trumped-up charges, beaten, tortured, and paraded around the towns of Negros Occidental as an object lesson of what happens when you defy the governor, and then he was shot.

That is eerily similar to the case, almost 60 years later, of Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, who claimed closeness to Malacañang, who reputedly has at least a 1000-man private army with control over the police, who was indeed instrumental in the election of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Presidency, and who was displeased because Toto Mangudadatu defied him and filed his certificate of candidacy to run for governor.

That's how the maguindanao massacre took place.

2. Poverty and private armies seem to go hand in hand – the poorer the area, the larger the number and the size of the private armies.

Take the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It is the region with the highest incidence of poverty in the Philippines, and probably the lowest human development index.

The latest military and police report states that of an estimated 170 private armies all over the Philippines, 102 (60 percent) are located in ARMM.

3. There seems to be if not active cooperation, at least complicity by the police and military when it comes to private armies.

In the Moises Padilla case, Governor Lacson's co-defendants included three police chiefs, several policemen, and some special policemen. And of course, also in Maguindanao.

4. Indeed private armies can be dismantled – but it requires determination, like that showed by President Ramon Magsaysay and President Cory Aquino.

In fact, between 1993 and today, it would seem that the number of private armies has decreased from 562 to 170 or 132, depending on whether we accept the Army’s or [Defense Secretary] Bert Gonzales’ figures.

But the size of private armies, however, seems to have increased – from an average of about 43 to an average of 76.

If these armies are not dismantled, not even a perfectly operating automated election system can guarantee that the sovereign will of the people in their choice of leaders from the president to the lowest local officials will be obeyed.

The guns and goons operating in certain areas may be sufficient to change the real vote of the people.

In sum, we have to be vigilant with respect to automated elections.

But, we must also demand that the army and the police dismantle these private armies if our elections are going to be truly free.
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