Philippine president orders private armed groups dismantled after spate of killings

Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
Philippine president orders private armed groups dismantled after spate of killings Family members of 58 people who were massacred by the Maguindanao province’s Ampatuan clan receive word of guilty verdicts against some of the clan, in Taguig City, Philippines, Dec. 19, 2019.
Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday directed authorities to disband all politician-controlled private armed groups (PAG), the defense chief said, amid a spate of deadly attacks on local officials.

Marcos’ order came a day after the funeral for the governor of a Central Philippine province whose killing earlier this month shocked the nation.

Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. met with members of a national task force formed to end PAG, including former Muslim rebels who have rejected a peace deal, refused to disarm and joined armed groups for hire.

The president’s directive said to “dismantle private armies and identify hotspots where local officials are being attacked,” Galvez told members of the task force.

He did not say how many PAG were being monitored, but ahead of the 2022 election, the government said as many as 155 operated across the nation, with many in far-flung provinces where police presence was weak.

Marcos’ order came a day after Negros Oriental province Gov. Roel Degamo, 56, was buried. A group of 10 armed men had barged inside his residence on March 4 while he was meeting with constituents, killing him and eight others.

Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack and are in custody.

Marcos has deployed a counterterrorism unit to the province to calm tensions.

Organized groups for hire

The government identifies PAG as organized groups hired by politicians to intimidate or perpetrate violence against opponents. Officials said the groups exist because of a long-running gun culture in the Philippines.

A PAG employed by the Ampatuans, a powerful political clan in Maguindanao province, ambushed a rival’s supporters in 2009, killing 58 people, including 32 local media members. It was believed to be the deadliest single-day attack on journalists anywhere in the world.

Ten years later, 28 Ampatuan clan members were convicted while 56 were acquitted.

Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos, who was with Galvez when he addressed the task force, vowed to go after the private armies.

“Let us continue working together in tearing down the walls of divisiveness and animosity of partisan politics as we move toward giving our kababayans [citizens] the peaceful and thriving communities they deserve,” Abalos said.

Galvez reiterated that concerns about PAG came to light following recent violence against local government officials. He was referring to high-profile attacks before the one on Degamo.

In February, four police officers were killed and three others, including another provincial governor, were injured in an ambush in the southern province of Lanao del Sur.

Also last month, gunmen disguised as police ambushed and killed a vice mayor and five companions in an ambush in the northern province of Nueva Vizcaya.

Roel Pareño in Zamboanga, Philippines, contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.