Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Congressman Win Gatchalian has called on the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to immediately disband private armed groups before the campaign period starts next month.
“Private armed groups (PAGs) have been known to perpetrate election-related violence so it is high time for authorities to make good on their annual promise to go after such groups,” said Gatchalian, a senatorial candidate running under the Partido Galing at Puso headed by Senators Grace Poe and Francis “Chiz” Escudero.
Gatchalian maintained it is only right for the DILG and the PNP to get their acts together in eradicating PAGs before the 90-day campaign period kicks off on Feb. 9. “Disbanding PAGs is a challenging task that should be accomplished for the safety of the voting public and election candidates,” he said.
The PNP has already started its election operations last Jan. 10, which marked the beginning of the election period as declared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). The police also said that it will form a task group to track down PAGs.
Gatchalian said authorities have to ascertain the number of PAGs– which has often been changed– in order to decimate such groups. About 71 PAGs are being monitored by the PNP as mentioned by Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento last October but a news report last month said the PNP has identified 76.
“Concerned agencies have been inconsistent as to the number of PAGs. Former Defense Sec. Norberto Gonzales said in 2009 that the number of PAGs is 132, in November 2010 ex-PNP Dir. Gen. Jesus Versoza said there are 68, in March 2012 President Aquino said there are 86, and in October of the same year then-PNP spokesman Generoso Cerbo Jr. said there are 250,” explained Gatchalian.
A previous report by Rappler showed that of the more than 80 PAGs indicated in the maps dated 2011 and 2012 the news agency has obtained, 43 PAGs were led by mayors, six by congressmen and another six by governors, five by barangay captains, two by vice mayors, and one each by a vice governor, a councilor, and police. Twenty were led by leaders of unspecified posts.
Gatchalian also asked President Aquino to uphold his promise as stated under the Aquino-Roxas Mindanao Peace and Development Agenda: “I will revoke EO (Executive Order) 546. Never again will public funds be used to support and maintain a private security force.”
E.O. 546, signed in 2006 by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, not only directs the PNP to support the military in “combat operations involving the suppression of insurgency and other serious threats to national security” but also allows the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as force multipliers.
However, EO 546 is also used by “local officials cite to justify the provision of arms to their personal forces,” said international group Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2013 on the Philippines.
“Among those who benefited from this order is the Ampatuan political clan in Maguindanao, whose senior members are accused of the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 supporters of a political opponent and media workers in Maguindanao province,” said the 2013 Human Rights Watch report
Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on local government, pointed out that instead of using public funds to arm civilians who will be beholden to ruling elites as part of private armed groups, the PNP and the AFP should instead focus on professionalizing its ranks and on increasing recruits who will later become uniformed law enforcers.
“This way, authorities need not depend on civilians to have force multipliers who will only become part of PAGs,” said the Valenzuela City lawmaker.
International bodies have already called on the government to quash E.O. 546 but as the European Parliament has observed, “under the shock of the massacre President Aquino promised to rescind Executive Order 546 and to ban private armies but has since renounced his intentions and wants instead to ‘professionalize’ the militias.”
In fact, the PNP and the AFP signed on Aug. 14 last year the Revised Joint Implementing Rules and Regulations (RJIRR) to EO 546 in Relation to Executive Order 110, a press release by the PNP Public Information Office showed.
The United Nations Human Rights Council already recommended in 2012 to “revoke” such order which is “used as a basis for armed civilian volunteer units” and to “dismantle and disarm the paramilitary forces, militias and armies through the revocation of Executive Order 546 that protects their existence, putting an end to the use of child soldiers.”
In the same year, the European Parliament, in its “resolution on impunity in the Philippines,” “reiterates its call for government action in order to stop all private and local funding of police and military auxiliaries and to disband paramilitary forces and local militias and urges the government to revoke Executive Order 546.” (R. Burgos)