Guns, Goons and Glory

In the nine years of her administration, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo vowed to end the decades-old problem of private armies and warlordism in the country only at the last minute. Yet critics believe that scoring a buzzer-beater is impossibile with the government’s complicity in the proliferation on guns and goons and with the election fever heating up.

As of Jan. 8, the military and police have validated 68 “partisan armed groups,” 25 of them in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Around 558 towns and cities have also been identified as election hotspots.

Four months before the May 10 elections, Arroyo finalized on New Year’s eve the composition of the six-man commission mainly tasked to probe the existence of private armies “with a view of dismantling them permanently,” Inquirer.net reported. Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said there are around 130 private armies all over the country, armed with close to a million loose firearms.

Members of the commission include Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Mahmod Mala Adilao of the Bishops-Ulama Conference, retired Brig. Gen. Jaime Echeverria, retired Police Deputy Director General Virtus Gil, broadcaster Herman Basbano of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), and Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.

Named as chair was Retired Court of Appeals Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa, whose appointment to the commission was announced a few days after the commission members were named because of her request.

The commission, which was created through Administrative Order No. 275 issued last Dec. 8, stemmed from the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao by suspected armed men of the Ampatuan clan, GMANews.tv reported. The appointments came at a time when the spate of attacks against local leaders and candidates heat up, in which four candidates under the Nacionalista Party were assassinated.

The same report added that under the administrative order, the commission may “tap the Department of Justice, Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Bureau of Investigations, and other government agencies including owned and controlled corporations if necessary to enable them to finish their work, which includes investigating, summoning witnesses, and taking testimonies and evidence that may be relevant to their probe.”

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