Arming vigilantes will imperil Election 2022

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Consider these facts and figures:

• Private armies numbered 3,779 and loose firearms 1.1 million in 2016, according to the Philippine National Police. (Source: House Bill 1133 filed by then-Rep. Gary Alejano)

• They were in nearly all the 1,959 political and administrative jurisdictions: 1,488 municipalities, 146 cities, 243 congressional districts, 81 provinces, and one autonomous region.

• Politicos maintained most of the private armed groups, ranging from two to dozens of thugs who intimidate election rivals and voters.

• Firearms included assault rifles, machine pistols and high-caliber handguns.

• Others were unlicensed personal bodyguards of business big shots, separate from legitimate private security-investigation agencies.

• Not included were former Moro separatists now at peace with the state but have yet to disarm. Also separately categorized were communist insurgents, Islamist terrorists, lost commands, bandits, rustlers, crime and vice syndicates.

• Police-military anti-crime drives prior to national-local elections in 2016 and 2019 dismantled only a few hundred private armies and recovered some firearms.

• The worst poll violence in recent world history was the massacre in 2009 of 57 political kinswomen and media men by the Ampatuan ruling clan in Maguindanao.

In light of these, President Rody Duterte’s plan to arm “anti-crime volunteers” needs rethinking. No number of civilians or type of weapons was detailed. It is dangerous nonetheless because indiscriminate. A gun in the hands of a wrong person is one too many, said Armed Forces Gen. Edilberto Adan of the previous administration’s Independent Commission Against Private Armies.

The aim of every President since 1986 has been to ensure honest, orderly, peaceful elections: HOPE. Dispersing guns to the wrong-minded and untrained will backfire on any anti-crime crusade, warned Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief. Civilians can help combat street crimes. But the incidence has dropped due to pandemic lockdowns, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said. The PNP is capable enough to protect the people. Armed volunteers can turn into dangerous vigilantes, he added.

Predictably, political violence will resurge in the run-up to the May 2022 presidential-congressional-local balloting.

The number of loose firearms could have risen to 2.1 million in 2020, International Alert-Philippines monitored. How loose firearms proliferate is detailed in many PNP and AFP studies:

(1) Smuggling – Firearms are misdeclared as metal parts to evade import taxes and licenses. Caches are also sneaked through the porous southern borders.

(2) Recycling – Guns recovered from battlefields are distributed among rebel ranks, pocketed by uniformed servicemen, or black-marketed by either side.

(3) Illicit gunsmiths – Hot-selling brands and models are counterfeited in underground machine shops. Multiple outputs may share the same fake serial number or have none at all.

(4) Armory theft – Crooked officers filch firearms by the crates from the PNP, AFP or militia for sale to highest bidding politicos. Many such rifles and mortars were found in room-sized vaults of the Ampatuans.

(5) Expired licenses – Gun owners fail to renew registrations due to cumbersome neuropsychiatric, vision and drug exams; ballistics sampling; firing proficiency tests; and hefty fees. Much easier to falsify an affidavit of losing the gun to car thieves yet still get to keep it.

Private armies come in various disguises. Politicos falsely have them accredited as security agencies or gun clubs. The influential also have them integrated into military auxiliaries. Others abuse police-military escorts and protection. In 2013 a police general bent on disarming Lanao political warlords sued an Army colonel – his former military academy classmate – for lending two machineguns and several rifles to a re-electionist mayor on pretext of warding off Moro rebels.

Politics is big money. Politicos kill for it. Mercenaries hire themselves out during election season. Random arming of anti-crime volunteers will only add to private armies and loose firearms.

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President Daisy Arce of the Capital Markets Integrity Corp. sent a rejoinder to Gotcha, 25 June 2021, “in relation to CMIC’s investigation of Venture Securities, Inc.”:

“Allow us to correct certain misconceptions you quoted Venture as alleging.

“CMIC is the independent audit, surveillance and compliance unit of the Philippine Stock Exchange. Its primary purpose in its Articles of Incorporation is to reinforce the confidence of the investing public through adoption, enforcement, implementation and interpretation of rules, guidelines and securities laws applicable to the operations and dealings of trading participants and other market participants of the PSE. Contrary to the allegation of Venture, CMIC is not ‘the moral guardian of the brokerage community’.

“CMIC’s regular examinations are based on a sampling methodology and specific audit parameters submitted to and approved by the SEC. The objective is to determine trading participants’ compliance with relevant securities laws. Thus, it is a compliance audit, not a fraud audit. While fraud may be detected in a compliance audit, the regular examinations by CMIC are not specifically conducted to uncover fraudulent transactions.

“In a decision dated 15 June 2021 SEC affirmed CMIC’s findings that Venture committed violations of securities laws. The breaches were committed within and by Venture itself.”

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