Military consulting with Comelec on role in highly charged polls
Acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales revealed on Tuesday that the military has identified 132 politically connected armed groups across the country, threatening to affect the conduct of the 2010 elections if they are not neutralized.
These private armies enlist more than 10,000 men, and may have been responsible for 133 cases of election-related ambushes so far documented by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Gonzales said.
Gonzales said that these cases reported by AFP "will have tremendous impact in the type of election we will have in 2010."
Gonzales gave a briefing to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc on these AFP reports and discussed with poll officials the "proper and effective involvement of the Armed Forces in protecting the elections in 2010."
He said that preventing violence during the election season is the more immediate concern than whether to extend the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao, where an election-related massacre happened a couple of weeks ago.
There is “no need to extend” the 60-day martial law period, he said, because the AFP appears like it will be able to accomplish within the prescribed period its work of arresting the suspects and the alleged armed men of the Ampatuan clan, as well as tracing their weapons.
Gonzales said the defense department has been "quietly consulting the Comelec" regarding the reports of election-related violence that the military has gathered.
"We went to the Comelec and told them we are at their disposal so the Comelec will define what the role of the armed forces will be," he said.
Gonzales declined to tell reporters where the 132 private armies operate.
The Philippine National Police has so far identified 9 election hotspots, namely Abra, Nueva Ecija, Masbate, Western Samar, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Sulu, and Maguindanao.
Gonzales said an estimated 800,000 firearms are suspected to be in the possession of armed groups, so the implementation of a total gun ban might help.
"It is not just the idea of a total gun ban. We need to be pro-active in this one," he said.
"What we need now is the Comelec and the AFP working together, and that we have the determination to make sure that the election in 2010 will not be violent," Gonzales said.