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Amid proposal to arm civilians, PNP orders ops vs private armies, loose guns

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Amid proposal to arm civilians, PNP orders ops vs private armies, loose guns
Undated file photo shows the destruction of the firearms at a ceremony marking the 32nd founding anniversary of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division at Camp Siongco in Barangay Awang.
Release / Western Mindanao Command CPIO

MANILA, Philippines — Despite pushes to arm civilian volunteers, the Philippine National Police is clamping down on private armies and loose guns around the country, its chief said Thursday. 

“I am directing all police offices and units nationwide to intensify operations against private armed groups and loose firearms. We shouldn't just focus on Mindanao but every area in the country,” Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said in a statement.

Over 130 armed groups are being monitored in Mindanao alone by authorities, according to the National Task Force on the Disbandment of PAGs.

Eleazar said the PNP wants to ensure credible, orderly and peaceful elections in 2022, adding that the police organization is already polishing its security measures for the coming elections.

“Elections are approaching and we know that there are some politicians who use private armed groups for their personal interests, particularly to win their candidacies by force. We will not allow that,” he said.

“Local police offices should intensify their intelligence gathering measures to keep a close eye on all potential private armed groups as well as syndicates involved in gunrunning activities.” 

'Get a gun'

This comes despite the earlier proposal from President Rodrigo Duterte that qualified civilians should “get a gun” and help the government enforce laws as volunteer force multipliers.

"If you have this coalition, you have a list of people who are there and who can arm themselves. I will order the police. If you are qualified, get a gun and help us enforce the laws," Duterte said during the launch of the coalition in Camp Crame on Friday.

Opposition senators, the justice department and human rights groups have since rallied against the proposal, noting the potential for violations by "vigilante groups."

Eleazar himself drew criticism for supporting the president's proposal before studying it. 

"He didn't even study it much yet, but he supported it right away. He should have processed it first before saying it was a good idea," Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Wednesday in an interview aired over TV5 ni Ted Failon with DJ Chacha. 

Lacson, himself a former PNP chief, said in a separate interview aired over dzMM TeleRadyo that the move would make the police look "helpless to ask for help from civilians."

But Eleazar on Wednesday walked back his earlier statements, saying the PNP will not be arming its civilian volunteers after all. 

"The truth is that we will not actually arm you. But as a Filipino citizen, you have the right to own a firearm based on the law. You can apply...if you can pass the requirements, you can bear firearms," he said in Filipino.

"If you want to be able to protect yourself, just like anybody else, you can avail that. But your role is, you are not police. You will not enforce the law. You will help us enforce the law by reporting to us."

This runs counter to the general's earlier statement of support on the proposal when he said the "proposal to arm them is purely for their own protection, to defend themselves."

PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE PNP
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