Sunday, 6 December 2009

Arroyo taps ex-justices to dismantle private armies

by Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

President Gloria Arroyo has formed an independent fact-finding commission composed of retired Supreme Court justices that will be given broad powers to dismantle private armies of political clans across the country.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered the Armed Forces to conduct an internal investigation into how high-power guns allegedly issued to the military were among those unearthed from an underground arsenal near the residence of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

“The commission will have broad powers. Dismantling of private armies is a priority of the President to ensure that there will be honest and effective elections in 2010,” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said in a press briefing after the executive committee meeting of the National Security Council-Cabinet cluster.

Mrs. Arroyo’s order came on the heels of a United Nations’ recommendation on the elimination of clan-based manipulation of the political process. The UN also denounced the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people including members of the Mangudadatu clan and at least 28 mediamen.

National Police Chief Jesus Verzosa said the initial watch list of areas where private armies were present and where violence occurred during the past two elections were the following: Masbate, Nueva Ecija, Abra, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Maguindanao, Sulu and Samar.

Verzosa said if the implementing authorities faced resistance from the private armies, police would step in and “neutralize” these armed groups.

“If there is resistance, then we will have to defend ourselves and neutralize these armed elements, but we will go through the legal process of getting search and arrest warrants,” the National Police chief said.

Presidential aspirant Gilberto Teodoro warned the Ampatuans against interfering with the official investigation into their alleged involvement in the massacre of 57 women, lawyers and journalists in Maguindanao two weeks ago.

Teodoro said it was time to end the passive treatment of the government on the Ampatuans as he called on the administration to “intervene decisively to prevent a spillover of violence” in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, warning that the “eyes of the world are upon the Arroyo government” to bring the perpetrators of the Nov. 23 massacre to justice.

“The Ampatuans and their supporters must face the full force of the law if they do not stand down and allow the government to proceed with its investigation and takeover of the operations of the ARMM,” Teodoro said.

Teodoro, as chairman of the Lakas-Kampi CMD, has expelled the Ampatuans from the ruling party and says he is ready to bear the political cost of his action.

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