Gibo: Mindanao conflict made disarming private armies difficult

by Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak

Posted at Jan 29 2010 07:48 PM | Updated as of Jan 30 2010 05:25 AM

5th in a series on ANC's presidential youth forum at De La Salle University, Jan. 29, 2010


MANILA, Philippines—Administration bet Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said on Friday the volatile peace situation in Mindanao prevented the government from disarming the private armies during his time as defense secretary.

Teodoro said in ANC's presidential youth forum at De La Salle University in Manila that during his time it was impossible to dismantle the private armies in Mindanao because of various threats to the peace and order in the region.

“During the time when I became defense secretary, there were threats from the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), a possibility that war could erupt, Christians were fighting, and kidnappings were happening all over the country, so we cannot disarm,” Teodoro said. “We couldn't sustain it (disarming) and it could have lead to more trouble.”

The issue of dismantling and disarming private armies has become controversial after the infamous Maguindanao massacre last November, allegedly masterminded by the Ampatuan clan. It led to the declaration of martial law in the province, resulting in the discovery of high-powered weapons and ammunitions near the residence of the Ampatuans clan. The armory, reports said, included some firearms owned by the government.

When Teodoro was asked how the private armies of the Ampatuan were able to have access to the government-owned weapons, he said that the Ampatuans didn't acquire those during his term at the defense department. He also said it was impossible for the Ampatuans to have built an armory as huge as that in just 2 years.

“There may be some [government owned-weapons] included in the armory, but the inventory said that 34 weapons only have corresponding serial numbers with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) [supply],” Teodoro said, adding that only 10% of the bullets confiscated were government-owned.

No case fixing

Teodoro also said, in response to a student's question, that his resignation from the defense department has nothing to do with the Maguindanao massacre. He said he was scheduled to resign much earlier to prepare for the campaign, but tropical storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng brought massive floods. He needed to manage the rescue operations of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, which he chaired.

Asked if President Arroyo has committed any wrongdoings and if he would run after her if he gets elected, the former defense secretary said he would just let the judicial process take its proper course--he will neither initiate it nor block it.

“If I participate in running after her, one way or another, they will think I will fix the case. And if I don’t, they will say I am not doing my job. Anybody can file a case against her and I should not meddle with it. Let justice be done,” Teodoro said.

Teodoro said it is hard for him to answer the question because he is a party-mate of President Arroyo.

“If I say yes, it is using something which is popular, using your emotions for a party mate and for a person I served with as Cabinet [secretary]. If I say no, then it’s depriving myself of the objectivity I would need when I become president to deal with [a past] issue,” Teodoro added.

In previous interviews, Teodoro said that running after a former president is not the main task of a successor but of the institutions mandated by the Constitution.

Local autonomy

When asked about his position on the botched deal on the Memorandum on Agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), Teodoro, however, declined to reveal his stand on the issue, invoking executive privilege and said that it is a national security matter.

The MOA-AD deal would have expanded the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The deal was criticized by local officials and was later declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Teodoro only said that he is not in favor of giving autonomy to localities that are not yet ready for it and added that he is closely watching the peace process in Mindanao.

“We should closely look in giving autonomy to those places where national government will subsidize [their operations] and there is no accountability mechanism,” Teodoro said.

Teodoro, who also served as chair of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, said that there is a need to enact a disaster risk management bill that would make local and national governments more prepared in dealing with disaster preparation, adaptation, and rehabilitation.

The macroeconomic fundamentals of the country, he added, should be also good to allow the government to spend more revenues in preparing for disasters.

“We should also be strict in implementing the land use and zoning plans,” Teodoro said, adding that local governments should have the tools for prevention while national government should have the capacity to respond in case the LGUs are overwhelmed. -  (Newsbreak)