CALBAYOG CITY -- The Army and police formed a task force to disband private armies in the first legislative district of Samar province.
The Philippine Army lead the Joint Task Force Calbayog, Gandara, San Jorge, Matuguinao and Sta. Margarita (JTF Cagasmas) where cases of killing linked to private armed groups have been reported. The Philippine National Police (PNP) is the co-chair.
Most of the victims are village officials and supporters of political leaders.
Records validated by the police and Army show that since January to September this year, 63 shooting incidents had been recorded in Calbayog City and three nearby towns.
Law enforcement agencies reported that there are 31 private armies in Calbayog City, eight are in Sta. Margarita, 13 in Matuguinao, and 10 in Gandara town. About half of them have standing warrant of arrests.
On Thursday, key provincial and town government officials signed a commitment of support to the task force.
Philippine Army Central Command Commander Major General Raul Del Rosario said that local government plays a vital role in ending killings in Samar province.
Rosario said the Philippine Army provided 109 personnel to help the PNP in the joint task force whose main objective is to conduct operation against private armed groups and put behind bars those with standing warrant of arrest.
“This is to show that we are serious in helping securing peace and order in this place. We need your sincerity if you really want to address this problem,” Del Rosario told Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan-de los Santos and concerned mayors.
The Army officials have called local officials to talk and settle their political differences and stand by the commitment they signed to support the eradication of private armies in their province.
Tan, on her part, said that this would be the last time she will sign a covenant in relation to addressing killing in her province for she noticed that the covenant she previously signed did nothing to solve the problem.
She asked mayors to submit the names of private armies operating in their areas for validation of task force. She also reminded the police and the military to fair in enforcing the law.
“I’m still positive with the new leaders. I hope that this is the last time that I will sign a paper that aims to address the problem on private armies because if not, I will never sign any documents again with the same purpose,” Tan said.
Samar Representative Edgar Mary Sarmiento re-echoed what the governor said and asked those who were present to be true to their commitment.
He also urged mayors to support and trust law enforcers, instead of asking higher officials to replace them.
“My first request to the mayors is to support who ever heads the law enforcement offices. These are the people we can trust. I am pleading everyone to trust them and don’t replace them,” Sarmiento said.
For Calbayog City Mayor Ronald Aquino, he said that one of his aspirations is the immediate ending of violence and resolution to victims of killings perpetuated by partisan armed groups.
“Now is the time for us to stand to end this violence, let us dismantle these private armies and let there be justice for all those who died in this senseless act of murder,” Aquino added.
Aquino added that after dismantling private armies, peace, which is essential for development, will follow. (PNA)