Press Release
June 6, 2011

No need to postpone ARMM polls to quash private armies...

Elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) need not be postponed in order for the government to carry out a campaign to dismantle private armed groups all over the country especially in Mindanao.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) currently counts at least forty (40) private armies present in Mindanao alone. Private armies have been notoriously tagged as being used by political dynasties in the country to maintain a grip on power.

Senator Chiz Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights said anti-private armies drive is already a matter of state policy as specified by the Constitution and that there is no need to disrupt a constitutional process like the scheduled election in ARMM.

Escudero said Section 2, Article XVIII of the Constitution says that "private armies and other private armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authority shall be dismantled."

The DILG, as one of the main proponents of the poll postponement said deferment is needed because the "government should focus on eliminating private armies to eliminate controlled votes in the region."

Escudero however debunks this saying dismantling of such private armed groups can always be done regardless of the political exercise.

"Why wait for postponement of election before it be done? If reforms are needed in ARMM to strengthen its mandate, its implementation need not be confined in suspended animation. Regardless of an election or none, the DILG is well within its mandate to pursue this intent."

Escudero, who also vocally pushes for the dismantling of private armies said authorities are empowered enough to cite the Constitutional provision in its drive against these groups.

In order address the oversight of government to implement the dismantling of private armed groups, Escudero had filed Senate Bill Number 2165 (SBN 2165) or the Anti-Private Army and Private Armed Groups Act of 2010.

In the said bill, leadership and membership in any private armed group and refusal to disband after notice from authority is prohibited. Likewise, any abuse of various permits pertaining to firearms, utilization of paramilitary forces as private armed groups and protection, financing and supplying private armed groups is punishable.

The bill penalizes leaders and members with imprisonment of not less than six (6) years or a fine of not less than two hundred (200) thousand pesos or both such fine and imprisonment.

Protector, financiers or suppliers shall be treated and punished as leaders. If the leader is a public officer, in addition to the penalties, perpetual absolute disqualification from holding public office and be subjected to administrative sanctions.

"If we need to keep private armies in check and disable them to operate beyond our Constitutional framework, what we need is to strengthen its implementation and not disrupt any constitutional processes" Escudero explained.

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