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Dismantling private armies, again

With the general elections just 10 months away, the Philippine National Police has embarked on a campaign against loose firearms and private armed groups. The crackdown on PAGs is in line with PNP efforts to reduce the deadly violence that has marked every electoral exercise in this country.

Such crackdowns are not new, and the public can only hope PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar can achieve some measure of success. The biggest hindrance to similar campaigns in the past has been the fact that PAGs work for politicians who are in positions that allow them to influence most aspects of the criminal justice system.

Some of these politicians are among the biggest smugglers of guns that they don’t bother to register. They have a pool of hired guns, ready to murder political rivals especially during election season. In the worst case of election violence, members of the Ampatuan dynasty in Maguindanao, backed by local police and militias serving as their private army, massacred 58 people including 32 media workers who were in a convoy of the clan’s political rival Esmael Mangudadatu.

Political dynasties are among the most notorious nurturers of private armies, and use the PAGs to harass rivals and voters during elections. The armed and often lethal violence is among the arguments for curbing dynasty building. But Congress, which is packed with members of dynasties, has consistently lacked the appetite for passing the enabling law for the constitutional ban on dynasties.

Besides politicians, the PNP must deal with armed threats posed by groups such as the New People’s Army and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. In past elections, NPA and BIFF members have supported certain candidates while subjecting rivals to armed harassment and intimidation.

Authorities count more than 130 private armed groups in Mindanao alone. There is even a National Task Force on the Disbandment of PAGs, chaired by the secretary of the interior and local government. Disbanding PAGs can succed if the PNP and the task force also go after the politicians who keep private armies. And it will be most successful if the crackdown is not selective, with no sacred cows.

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Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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