Saturday, 20 February 2010

Anti-private armies body steps up action plans; PNP lists 117 armed groups

The seven-man Independent Commission Against Private Armies, also known as the Zenarosa Commission, has stepped up meetings and liaison with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement groups to firm up urgent action plans against private armed groups, which now number 117 nationwide.

“Just like candidates and political parties, we too are in a race with time because the private armed groups (PAGs), by their nature and intentions, are principally election accessories and are very disruptive ones,” said Commissioner Herman Z. Basbaño, spokesman of the presidential body. President Arroyo created the Commission last December 8.

Basbaño said that upon directives issued by Commission chairman, retired Justice Monina Arevalo Zenarosa, the Commission has been holding daily meetings and consultations to coordinate its action plans with law enforcement agencies, including the military, the prosecution arm of government and anti-crime groups and non-governmental organizations.

He said the Commission has been briefed by PNP Intelligence about the existence of 117 PAGs in all the regions, with members running close to 5,000 many of them with arms.

The PNP said the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which includes Maguindanao province, scene of the gruesome massacre of 58 persons last November, accounts for 25 PAGs, the biggest for any of the country’s 13 regions.

Although individually operating and not exactly linked to each other, the PAGS constitute a significant threat to peace and order, especially during the election period.

He said the Commission, whose members are Bishop Juan de Dios M. Pueblos, Mahmod L. Adilao of the Ulama League of the Philippines, Army Gen. Jaime Echeverria (ret), Dante L. Jimenez of the Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption, and Police Director General Virtus V. Gil (ret), met again Monday through Wednesday this week to receive intelligence updates from PNP and to assess the reports.

PNP Intelligence officials said that while a number of PAGs have already been neutralized, and its members disarmed and charged in court, many of these groups remain active and at the sides, waiting for possible election engagements.

PNP officials said 117 special police task forces, one for every active PAG, have been formed to intensify monitoring of PAG movements, checkpoint operations, and intelligence build up.

Former Armed Forces General Edilberto Adan, a permanent adviser to the Commission, said the body will press for the detailed inventory of PAGs, a sort of an “order of battle” to enable the commission to determine PAG profiles, membership, and capability. Adan said it is not remote that some PAGs could be employing not only private bodyguards of politicians, but also retired, inactive, and even active policemen and soldiers.

According to Basbaño, the whole Commission is slated again to go to another Mindanao province for another consultative dialogue with various sectors.

Zenarosa declared earlier that Commission was bent on exhausting all means so that none of the reported PAGs can possibly disrupt the forthcoming elections. (PND)

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