Palace yet to act on probe on private armies

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Nov 24 2011 12:23 AM | Updated as of Nov 24 2011 08:24 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Both President Benigno Aquino III and his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, have not acted on the recommendations made by a special commission tasked to look into private armies in the country, the commission's head said Wednesday.

Retired Justice Monina Zeñarosa, whom the commission was named after, told ANC Primetime that they have submitted the full report and supplemental findings to then-President Arroyo, and current Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa at the beginning of Aquino's term.

"They have always been promising to go over it," she said. "Haven't heard from them."

Retired Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan, a member of the Zeñarosa Commission, said a substantial part of the report has been shared with various government agencies and the media.

"There were just parts of the report that were confidential because there were names mentioned and some of these names have to be validated because they came from various sources of information ... so we have to be careful," he said.

Adan said some details of the report were not released to the public because they involve filing of cases against some personalities.

He added that some of the information gathered by the commission also needs to be verified.


Among the commission's general recommendations are the creation of a permanent task force against private armies, the crafting of a law imposing stricter penalties on those who have private armies, and the abolition of a policy granting amnesty to people who own unregistered and illegal firearms.

Adan said the the commission worked for 6 months from January to June 2010.

It members went to election hot spots such as Masbate, Abra, Lanao del Sur, Davao and Marawi to have a first-hand look in the sitiation in the areas.

"We came out with a comprehensive analysis of the situation, the socio-cultural causes that give way to the creation of private armies, the motivations of patrons or so called bosses of maintainers of private armies, the clients and followers ... what makes them obey or act as private armies," Adan told ANC.

Adan said the commission found police officers being controlled by local officials. "During our investigation, we reported police officers beholden to their political masters."

He also reiterated Zeñarosa's statement that their findings and recommendations were submitted to both the Arroyo and Aquino administrations.

No law against private armies

Zeñarosa said there is no law in the countries that punishes people who have private armies. 

"The phenomenon of private armies is not new," she said. "It's been in the political scene for a long time."

She said it started with politicians who want political supremacy in their own turf. "This has become a part of a political machinery, and there is the matter of the Filipinos' affection for guns."

"Definitely these private armies are spawned by politicians," she said. "No private army can exist without firearms."

Guns and politics

Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz, spokesman of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said police have launched 9 programs to go after loose firearms and people who owned them.

"Taking the cue from the recommendations of the Zeñarosa Commission, the PNP has embarked on several programs," he said. "Basically, for control of firearms, number 2 is the control of bodyguards, and number 3 is the arrest of wanted persons."

He said police have accounted for almost all of the firearms that were issued to civilian volunteers.

Around 700 of the guns taken back from militias have been turned over to the Armed Forces.

The Ampatuan massacre

He said not one of the guns, which are mostly M-1 and Carbines, were used in the Ampatuan massacre case in 2009.

"Wala po tayong narecover na slug or a basyo na shell na nanggaling po sa mga firearms na ito," Cruz said. "Lahat po ng M-14s and M-16s, kinuha po ng ating crime lab  at yun po ang nasa custody natin at ginagamit po nating ebidensya ngayon."

Adan said the commission's findings show that militiamen were part of the Ampatuan massacre.

He said the government allows provincial governors to raise special armed groups called civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs).

He said the armed CVOs are different from CAFGUs  becuause the latter under the control of the Armed Forces.

"The ones involved are not CAFGUs. There are civilian bodyguards hired by the provincial government, so even the firearms mentioned may not have all come from the AFP, but were bought by the local government using their own funds," Adan said.

Two of the primary suspects in massacre case are former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son, Ampatuan Jr.

Adan said while all the CAFGU companies previously assigned to the Ampatuan clan were disarmed, there are provisions in the law that allow local officials to maintain arned guards.

"They're authorized, so we recommended stricter controls be applied," he said. "We have to look deeper into how firearms are supplied, how they're obtained and what regulations for the use of these firearms."

"We believe that the government has to look into this," Adan said.