MANILA, Philippines - Philippine police have identified about 60 suspected "private armies" that could use violence to influence national elections next year, an official said Monday.
Armed followers of politicians have long been a major problem during elections, carrying out crimes like the 2009 massacre of 58 people to protect the interests of powerful clans.
National police spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo said police intelligence had found about 60 suspected "private armed groups" in different parts of the country.
"Once we have completely validated this, all of our units will go after these groups," he told reporters.
The initiative would be part of national police efforts to safeguard local and legislative elections in May 2013, Cerbo added.
A previous national police study in 2010 found 112 private armed groups all over the archipelago with numbers ranging from a handful of men to hundreds.
Cerbo said police were conducting a new count because some of these groups had already been broken up while others had voluntarily disbanded.
The groups consist of government-supported militiamen, insurgents, rogue police or soldiers or armed thugs who do the bidding of politicians to help them stay in power.
This can include intimidating rival candidates or voters or spoiling the counting of ballots.
In the worst case of violence involving private armies, followers of a powerful clan in 2009 killed 58 people in the southern Philippines to prevent a rival from running against one of the clan members.
A government study in 2010 said private armies exist because of widespread disregard for the law in settling disputes and a feudal power structure in which many poor people find themselves relying on a few powerful men.
President Benigno Aquino, who was elected on a reform platform in 2010, has ordered the police to break up all such groups.