07/03/2010, 00.00
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Private armies getting stronger in the Philippines

Many private armies are set up with government funds to fight crime. Now local potentates are using them to assert their own power. New Filipino President Aquino pledges to solve the problem through tighter security. He has urged the Armed Forces to show more professionalism and discipline.
Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Private armies linked to local politicians continue to grow in the Philippines. According to the Independent Commission against Private Armies (ICAPA), 112 armed groups exist across the country, most of them in Mindanao, the predominantly Muslim region in the southern Philippines, where the Filipino Armed Forces and Muslim rebels have battled it out for the better part of the past 40 years.

As part of his agenda, newly-elected President Beniño Aquino wants to bring such organisations into line. Yesterday, in his first speech as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he called on the military to show “professionalism, integrity, discipline, valour, and hard work” in working for national security. As part of this, he wants to boost the strength of the Armed Forces in order to retake control of all the regions of the country.

For ICAPA member Edilberto Adan, it is not enough to give the Armed Forces greater means. Recent studies indicate that many private militias are armed and funded by the national government.

These "volunteer groups" or "auxiliary" units are set up for legal objectives such as anti-drug campaigns or to defend local communities from Communist or Muslim insurgents and bandits, Adan said.  However, “in reality, it turns out they are used for partisan activities by the local government that created them”, including criminal activity.

Even regular soldiers and police are often recruited into private armies through money or political favours. They are paid as little as US$ 58 a month to become enforcers in executions, abductions and drug-related crimes.

The Filipino government set up ICAPA on 24 March 2010 to study the phenomenon of private armies, in the wake of a massacre that occurred on 23 November 2009 in Magindanao (Mindanao) when a group of gunmen linked to the outgoing governor ambushed and killed 57 members of a rival clan.

In a recent report, ICAPA pointed to deep-rooted problems behind the private army phenomenon, such as feudal relations that drive poor people to rely on a few powerful men, not to mention poverty and a widespread culture that encourages people to settle private problems through the barrel of a gun.

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