THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) recommended the prolonging of the state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City until after the May elections when permanent and new sets of officials have already been elected and ready to assume.

Eastern Mindanao Command head Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer, in an ambush interview in Malacañang Monday, said that as of now there are still no permanent local officials in parts of the affected areas.

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“As soon as maka-assume na iyung new set of officials, then we will recommend to them na pwede na tayo mag-normalize and I think habang wala pang elections we have time to reorganize the police. Kasi when the massacre happened, ang unang action ng PNP (Philippine National Police) was to dissolve the whole Maguindanao police force kasi parang na involved,” he said.

Ferrer said the PNP is slowly replacing the Maguindanao police and they are hoping that it would be reorganized and completed in the next three to four months.

At present several officers-in-charge have already been designated in concerned offices.

“After the elections saka lang natin masasabi na full time na iyung ano. Ang nangyari ngayon puro OIC…until a little after the elections, mas permanent na iyung mga designations,” according to Ferrer.

Ferrer further said the important thing is that during the state of emergency, they are able to “suppress violence, restore law and order.”

On the dismantling of private armed groups, Ferrer said they have already succeeded in disarming and demobilizing some of the private armies of the Ampatuan clan.

He said they are still after some 200 to 300 other members of the group who are now into hiding, adding that “they are not fighting us” though some have actively joined in their rido or clan wars.

While there are some civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs) who may have been involved and disarmed, Ferrer said there are still some who were not involve and continued to be armed and “well supervised by the police or the military.”

“Hindi naman lahat ng CVOs na-involve sa crime. Most of the CVOs organized there are to protect their community from intrusion by MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) or other armed groups…basta they’re focused, well supervised in their community, hindi sila gagamiting bodyguards ok pa iyan.”

He however admitted that the dismantling of some CVOs has left some “security gaps” in some areas in Maguindanao as the police and military does not have enough personnel to fill the gap.

The AFP and PNP are looking into the security set-up in Maguindanao, particularly in the Shariff Aguak and Mamasapano area.

“Iyun ang problematic because we used to have a lot of CVOs there, now that we have disarmed them, so parang nagkaroon ng security gaps. We’re looking how to fill in the security gaps,” Ferrer said, adding that they are considering sending additional battalion if possible citing there are now three battalions in the area.

Ferrer, meanwhile, denied that there were some burning of villages.

He admitted though that there was a rido involving some of the Ampatuan’s volunteers and some MILF personalities stemming from a land conflict.

He added that there were also some looting incident but “it’s not rampant.”

PNP Chief Jesus Verzosa said the looting stemmed from some disgruntled persons who were “displaced” following the arrest of the Ampatuans.

He said there is no recommendation yet for the imposition of a possible curfew but the police are planning to reinforce the “formation of the joint security control centers” in concerned areas which would be in charge of imposing security measures that are more adaptable to their places.

At present there is continued patrol visibility while several private armed groups have already been dismantled.

“In the next few days there will be application of search warrants, in the next few days there will be actual offensive military operations,” Verzosa said, admitting that there are some politicians identified to be maintaining private armed groups and supplying them with firearms.

Authorities have currently identified 68 partisan armed groups and most of them are in the Autonomous Region or Muslim Mindanao.

On the campaign against loose firearms, Verzosa said there had been recent operations in Quezon, Ilocos, and Basilan.

Zenarosa Commission commissioner and spokesman Herman Basbano said he and fellow commissioner Dante Jimenez supported the call of the PNP for amendments to the Firearms Control Law which is now pending in the Senate.

Basbano, in a statement, said Verzosa during the meeting of the Commission, stressed the need to amend the Firearms Control Law specifically to increase penalties and bail requirements for violators.

The PNP also wants the removal bail if the offense is committed during the election period.

“The PNP also informed the Commission on the formation of a joint security control center (JSCC) that would, among others, oversee the assignment of security personnel to politicians during the election period…composed of representatives of Comelec, NBI, PNP, and AFP and will operate in a national and regional basis,” Basbano said.

He said the JSCC would be working with the Commission closely in the dismantling of the private armed groups.

Basbano the Commission will be visiting provincial and regional JSCC offices soon to gather relevant information and data as part of it mandate. (JMR/Sunnex)