Be it traditional media (meaning newspapers, radio, TV) and social media, the sizzling news these days is about killings of politicians, hazing in fraternities and rising suicides and killings-bullying in schools—private or public. Why so?
Have we reached the deepest point of moral degradation where we no longer consider killing and its derivatives a sin because our country is veering away from religion and the teachings of Christ? The culture of impunity, no doubt, has seeped into our society, no thanks to the previous administration that encouraged killing for its supposed anti- drug war which only maimed the innocent and poor suspects and users while leaving the bigtime pushers and manufacturers of drugs roaming the country freely in search of their next market.
Our supposed protectors—the police, the Army and the drug enforcers—have also been immunized by this killing culture to the point where each killing is made to look like it is part of the anti-drugs campaign, anti- insurgency and those out to overthrow the government.
We have sufficient laws against private armed groups for politicians (especially in the local communities who act like kings and dictate the development of their jurisdiction according to their whim and not according to the will of the people. There are also laws against hazing but who will enforce these laws when some law enforcers, judges and lawyers are either part of the erring fraternity and therefore would not touch those responsible for injuring (whether temporarily or permanently) the one hazed and worse, throwing the dead body elsewhere so the killing would not be linked to them.
To quote the column of Jake Maderazo, the spate of political killing continue because of the unabated proliferation of private armed groups in this administration. Congressmen and senators would not dare pass a law that would lessen their protection and security groups, for so long as they are in power.
In 1993, there were 558 private armies, but this declined to only 107 in 2010, a figure corroborated by the Independent Commission against Private Armies. It went down to 77 in 2018 (I even doubt this figure, considering that Duterte has been most vocal in encouraging killings in his speeches) during President Duterte’s time but before last year’s elections, the PNP admitted this increased to 118 PAGs in the country.
With so many powers today given to local government units, such as issuance of “local mining permits”, quarry operations, small town lottery and public contracts including illegal activities, drugs, or non-drugs, contending families fight for the political and economic control of their jurisdictions, just like before martial law in the 1970’s.
These ruling families are either governor, mayor, or congressmen in their localities, make them rule like royals with massive influence and employing violent people to keep themselves in power. Some use “counterinsurgency operations as a cover to legitimize their armed bodyguards in rural areas. They prefer ex-military men, often those dishonorably discharged, in exchange for “fat salaries” or “illegal business”, for their protection, and to eliminate their political opponents.
But during elections, all national leaders seeking higher positions, regularly blindly seek the help of these political families by looking the other way once they are successful. In truth, all our past and recent administrations have become wary in confronting and dismantling private armies of these “powerful local politicians”. From their point of view, national leaders can partner with “local warlords” and tolerate “private armies” in exchange of “political benefits.” This is so very true.
Duterte in last year’s polls reminded everyone that “the Alunan doctrine prohibits politicians from having more than two bodyguards, which can only be considered a “private army.” But his warning went unheeded. Just days after, in Abra, a former female politician, was caught on a police checkpoint with twelve security aides mostly military personnel, who engaged in a gunfight killing a bodyguard and wounding two cops, Maderazo recalled.
The recent brazen killing of Negros Oriental Governor Ruel Degamo is indicative of a ‘real private army’ in action. Full-battle gear uniformed people moving ‘military like” and shooting dead and cold-blooded a public official with innocent civilians inside his home on a weekend. Yes, some of the assailants were arrested and charged with murder, but who are the masterminds? Will he/she or they be identified and jailed?
Which politician would be next? I am sure that all politicians in those “areas of concern” either doubled or increased their protection detail after this horrible incident. But how will this administration meet this situation, when even the likes of former Presidents Cory Aquino, Ramos, Arroyo, Estrada, Pnoy and Duterte all failed?
The 1987 Constitution is clear. Article 18, section 24 says: “Private armies and other armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authority shall be dismantled.
All paramilitary forces including Civilian Home Defense Forces not consistent with the citizen armed force established in this Constitution, shall be dissolved or, when appropriate, converted into the regular force”.
Since its ratification 36 years ago, past 18 Congresses did not issue a law banning “private armies” permanently. Interpretation then went vague as to what constituted “legal forces” and allowing the conversion of paramilitary forces into a functioning part of the military who was fighting the Communists at the time. Previous efforts, beginning from Cory, to implement the constitutional disbandment of private armies lost steam. In the 1988 elections that followed, according to the PC-INP sources, 65 candidates were shot dead and 65 wounded.
Today, the numbers are appalling. According to a PIRF-2022 report, “close to 70 politicians have been killed annually for the past 15 years, with violence increasing over time, up to 100 per year. The vast majority are carried out by contract killers and the principals ordering the killings remain in the shadows and enjoy almost complete impunity.”
House Speaker Martin Romualdez should spearhead the quick passage of this law banning “private armies” permanently as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. He must maximize his leadership in convincing his fellow legislators in dismantling this societal menace now exhibiting its murderous fangs in closely contested election areas. If he turns a blind eye, many will suspect that future “political benefits” from these local warlords are more important.
Perhaps, local powerful politicians are also the main reason for the non-passage of the Constitution’s anti-political dynasty provision and now these permanent bn on private armies. How can we now trust this 19th Congress of Senators and Congressmen in amending the 1987 Constitution thru CONCON or CON-ASS, when they could not even enact an enabling law vs both political dynasties and private armies, already contained inside?
For President Marcos, Maderazo suugested that he should immediately condemn and ban these private armies. For a start, he should revisit former president Ramos’ Administrative Order no. 81 issued in July 1993, mandating the DILG to disband private armies in all local governments, from provincial to barangay levels within two months or in September. This Ramos effort called “OPLAN PAGLALANSAG” led to a sharp decline in private armies from 558 in July to only 275 in September. This was extended up to November, which critics say, ignored the large armies of prominent politicians. By the end of Ramos term, 150 private armies remained.
Now that the demarcations within the PNP and AFP are more clear-cut in terms of maintaining paramilitary and counterinsurgency forces, the all-out drive against powerful local warlords and influential families maintaining “private armies” should now proceed without delay.