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INACTION ON PRIVATE ARMIES ASSAILED BY PIMENTELAlmost two months before the May 10 national and local elections, what has the government done to dismantle private armies being maintained by political warlords?
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. raised this question today as he assailed the dismal failure of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to disband and disarm private armies, as promised by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo shortly after the massacre of 57 innocent civilians in Maguindanao by goons of the Ampatuans on Nov. 23, 2009.
Pimentel said the inaction on the existence of the private armies only confirmed the lingering suspicion that the President’s promise was all for show, intended to appease the public indignation over the Maguindanao carnage.
“I think the President owes the public an explanation why her much-vaunted directive to dismantle the private armies has not been implemented. Because of this failure, several election-related killings perpetrated by armed bodyguards of politicians or guns-for-hire have occurred. Will the government wait for the wave of killings to escalate or for another mass murder to occur before taking action?” he said.
Noting that Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales has publicly admitted that there are at least 131 private armies or private armed groups in the country, Pimentel asked the defense chief what steps have been done by his department and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to carry out the President’s directive.
The senator from Mindanao said lack of progress in breaking up the private armies only creates the impression that the political leadership is hesitant to incur the ire of its political allies who maintain these armed groups.
“Without political will and determination on the part of the Arroyo administration, the order to dismantle private armies boils down to nothing but a charade,” he said.
Pimentel said Secretary Gonzales only sounds pathetic and hypocritical by criticizing politicians who hire armed bodyguards and goons but sleeps on his job in disbanding private armies.
He recalled that during his stint as Secretary of Interior and Local Government under the Aquino administration, he did his part in dismantling private armies. He said the governors and mayors with private armies were among the first to be replaced with officers-in-charge when the government operated under the Freedom Constitution.
“A lot of people got angry with me for what I did. But we had to do what was called for by the situation by mustering political will to restore the rule of law,” he said.
Pimentel reiterated that the so-called presidential commission on the dismantling of private armies, that was formed by Mrs. Arroyo, is a completely useless body designed to hoodwink the public into believing that something was being done to address the problem in the wake of the furor over the Maguindanao massacre.