MANILA - More than 8 years after she became commander-in-chief and with only 7 months left in her term, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the creation of an independent commission that will dismantle all private armies in the country.
This was one of the policy decisions reached after a two-hour National Security Council (NSC) meeting in Malacañang Friday afternoon.
"We are very happy to announce that one of the decisions arrived at is the creation of commission to dismantle private armed groups, especially those related to political clans," said Press Secretary Cerge Remonde.
Remonde said the high-level commission will be led by a retired Supreme Court justice.
Aside from dismantling private armies, the commission will also conduct an independent probe into the Maguindanao massacre, which killed 57 innocent civilians last November 23.
The massacre will be the take-off point for a thorough probe on how and why private armies have expanded in the Philippines.
The Palace will name the head of the commission once the person has accepted the post.
The commission will have broad powers, and it will conduct an internal investigation into the police and the armed forces following the discovery of an arms cache containing weapons from the Government Arsenal near the Ampatuans' house in Maguindanao.
Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno assured there will be transparency in the investigation into the massacre.
He said the commission will also review Executive Order 546, which authorizes the creation of private armed groups such as Civilian Volunteer Organizations or CVOs and Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary (SCAAs).
These groups often end up as private armies of politicians.
Puno clarified, however, that EO 546 does not authorize the issuance of firearms to CVOs.
He said the government has taken steps to control private armies such as the proclamation of a firearms amnesty and limiting the bodyguards of politicians to 2 uniformed personnel.
According to Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Jesus Verzosa, the commission is timely given that the campaign period of the May 10, 2010 elections is just a few months away.
Verzosa said the number of private armies usually increases during elections.
He said the PNP is monitoring hotspots such as Masbate, Nueva Ecija, Abra, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Samar, which have the most number of private armed groups.
Verzosa said the government is ready to use force to be able to dismantle these private armies. He added that the private armed groups of the Ampatuans have not yet been dismantled. -- report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News