ZAMBOANGA CITY - Around 7 private armed groups are being monitored in Western Mindanao as part of the security preparations for next year’s national elections, a government task force official said on Wednesday.
In a meeting held by the National Task Force for the Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (NTF-DPAG) at the Western Mindanao Command, Police Lt. Gen. Chiquito Malayo said two active private armed groups are from Soccsksargen, while 5 others are monitored in the Bangsamoro region.
The two groups are composed of 363 members with 237 firearms, according to Malayo.
A private armed group is an organized group of 2 or more persons with firearms, and used for purposes of committing acts of violence or violations of the law.
Aside from the existing private armed groups, the task force is also keeping an eye on some 126 potential others composed of 1,542 members with 1,184 firearms in Western Mindanao.
The NTF-DPAGS reported that 10 private armies have been disbanded in Western Mindanao as of Wednesday.
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Meanwhile, Secretary Eduardo Año, a retired military general, said the proliferation of private armed groups peaks during election season, as some candidates tap them to supposedly silence their rivals.
Año had warned officials against consequences they might face for cuddling private armed groups.
“Politicians found to be using [armed groups] may be charged with the violations of the same laws and at the same time, kung siya ay elected officials, meron din siyang administrative case,” he said.
Among the laws for which they can be held liable are for violations of illegal possession of firearms and the controversial Anti-Terrorism Law.
In line with his objective, Año clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to arm civilian groups is not inconsistent with their goal of eradicating the presence of private armies.
“He was referring to the areas under the influence of the CPP-NPA where in after those barangays have been cleared by the government forces, there is necessity for civilians particularly barangay officials to defend the villages or barangays. Sabi niya, favor siya do’n subject to the laws,” said Año.
The NTF has yet to identify hotspot areas in next year’s election.
- Report by Leizle Lacastesantos