FORMER president Joseph “Erap” Estrada on Monday vowed to dismantle all private armies in the county if he wins the May 10 presidential elections, saying hired guns have no place in a civilized society.

Estrada, the standard bearer of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), said his administration will not tolerate political warlords and their goons terrorizing society in furtherance of their political interests.

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“As long as political warlords are emboldened because of support, stated or otherwise, by the government, crimes s will continue. That is why I will make it a top priority to dismantle all private armies should I be elected president,” he said.

He added that going after private armies does not need additional legislation as their mere existence is illegal. “If I become the country's next President, the public can expect a 'no-nonsense’ drive against them.”

“No laws would have to be further created to dismantle these private armies because their very existence is illegal. The existence of private armies is illegal per se,” he further said.

The issue of private armies has gained public attention following last November massacre of 57 people including journalists in Maguindanao allegedly perpetrated by members of the Ampatuan clan and their supporters.

The Ampatuans, led by the clan patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. are close political allies of the Arroyo administration.

The incident has been considered as the worst political violence in the country's political history.

Authorities have also raised the alarm on the recent upsurge of political-related violence in other parts of the country, particularly in the province of Masbate where Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales characterized as “reminding him of the situation in Maguindanao.”

Police and military data showed that 368 people were killed in Masbate in 2008 for sociopolitical reasons. But only 47 cases were brought to court while the rest were recorded only in police blotters with no complaints filed.

Security forces have identified 10 private armed groups in Masbate, four of which have been validated.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Jesus Verzoza said there are more than 100 private armies in the country with a membership at more than 600.

The number does not include the 68 private armed groups, which have been earlier verified by the police. Of the 68, 25 are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

Verzosa earlier said private armed groups could be formed with two or more members. (AH/Sunnex)