PHILIPPINE National Police (PNP) chief, General Dionardo B. Carlos yesterday reiterated his directive for all five PNP Directorates for Integrated Police Operations or Area Police Commands (APC) and the 17 Police Regional Offices to intensify their crackdown against partisan armed groups and loose firearms that could be used as an ‘instrument of violence’ in the May 9 national and local elections.
The member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) ‘Maringal’ Class of 1988 said the APCs should be more involved in the police campaign against insurgency, terrorism and dismantling of private armed groups amid their ongoing efforts to help ensure fair, secure and credible elections next year.
Last week, Gen. Carlos and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo M. Año warned anew candidates in the May 9 elections to stop employing private armed groups or they will be the subject of a massive police operation.
The two top officials issued the renewed warning in the wake of the March 29 standoff in Pilar, Abra which ended up peacefully when 12 bodyguards of the local vice-mayor turned themselves over to authorities and surrendered 14 firearms belonging to the official and her husband.
“This should be a warning to all candidates, a warning to all: stop using armed groups, stop using intimidation and force as we would be going after you without fear or favor,” the DILG chief as he confirmed they will recommend to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) the disqualification of the re-electionist vice-mayor and her brother, also a re-electionist mayor for outright violation of the Omnibus Election Code and implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulations Act of 2013.
The DILG chief said the mayor and vice-mayor committed ‘flagrant violations of the law’ when they were found to be employing unauthorized bodyguards and allowing those people to use their personal firearms.
Gen. Carlos said the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office has already constituted a board that will study the revocation of the License to Own and Possess Firearms and Certificate of Registration issued to Vice-Mayor Josefina Jaja Disono and her husband.
“It will be done quickly,” the top cop said in referring to the revocation of the gun licenses and permits as well as the recommendation to disqualify the two Abra politicians.
Sec. Año and Gen. Carlos also cited the commendable act of the Cordillera Police Regional Office headed by Brigadier Gen. Ronald O. Lee in resolving the standoff in Pilar quickly without any shots being fired.
“The Cordillera police observed maximum tolerance in dealing with the situation and the standoff ended up peacefull with the surrender of the 12 and the firearms of the vice-mayor and her husband,” Gen. Carlos said.
The PNP chief also called on other licensed gunolders in the country to strictly comply with all guidelines regarding firearm licenses and Permit-to-Carry-Firearms-Outside-of-Residence issued to them or be stripped of their privilege to own and possess guns in the country.
He made the call amid their continuing enforcement of the nationwide gun ban to prevent violence during the May 9 national and local elections and in the wake of the incident in Pilar, Abra last week where the mayor and vice-mayor were accused of employing a group of former Marine and Army soldiers as unauthorized bodyguards.
Fourteen assorted firearms registered under the name of the vice-mayor and her husband were also turned over to the Cordillera police.
The weapons which are now being subjected to a ballistics examination include four 9mm semi-automatic pistols, two cal. 40 pistols, three cal. 5.56 assault rifles, three 12-gauge shotguns and two cal. .45 pistols.
The March 29 incident which left one ex-Marine trooper dead and two local policemen injured has prompted the Cordillera police to recommend criminal charges against the re-electionist mayor and vice-mayor. Opponents of the two are also mulling a disqualification case against them.
Mayor Somera and Vice-Mayor Disono and three others were charged in court by the PNP following the standoff.
Roberto Toreno,27; and Emmanuel Valera,26, both Pilar municipal employees and Jericho Bufil,29, a helper of the vice-mayor were charged with serious disobedience to an agent of a person in authority before a local prosecutor’s office. Bufil was also charged with attempted murder.
The two local government officials on the other hand were charged with violation of Republic Act 9208 as amended by RA 10364 or the Expanded Trafficking in Persons Act.
“The cases filed are the product of the evidence and testimonies that our police investigators were able to gather. Those involved individuals will be made to submit themselves to the judicial proceeding,” Gen. Carlos said.
PNP spokesperson, Colonel Jean Fajardo said the complaint for violation of RA 9208 as amended by RA 10364 filed against the mayor and vice-mayor arose from the sworn statements of the former military personnel who surrendered, claiming they were deceived and promised that they will be employed/hired as Citizen Security Unit of the Pilar municipal government but instead, they were used for other purposes, and served as security/bodyguard of the two local officials without authority from the Comelec to their prejudice.
The Journal Group learned that the 12 men including eight ex-Marine troopers and a former Army soldier have given written testimonies that they were using the licensed firearms of the two politicians to guard them although the gun licenses and permits are ‘non-transferable.’
Brig. Gen. Lee has recommended to Año and Gen. Carlos a series of actions in connection with the incident in Pilar wherein bodyguards of Vice-Mayor Disono ignored a police checkpoint and fired shots at officers.
An ensuing gunfight led in the killing of one of the suspects who turned out to be a dismissed member of the Philippine Marines and a standoff after the armed men holed up inside the Disono compound before eventually surrendering on Wednesday last week along with 14 of their weapons.
The official said that as of press time, they are continuing their effort to recover more firearms and other deadly weapons in possession of the Disonos and other politicians in Abra that could be used as an ‘instrument of violence’ during the May 9 national and local elections.
Gen. Carlos has commended the Cordillera region and Abra police officers and men who helped resolve the standoff and caused the surrender of the 12 suspects holed out inside the politician’s compound without shots being fired.
Abra provincial forensic investigators who conducted an investigation at the Disono compound found the van with plate no. NDF 2499 and the body of a dead man later identified as Sandee Boy Bermudo, a 24-year old former Marine trooper from Bgy. Soutside in Makati City.
Also recovered inside the van were a caliber 9mm pistol with a magazine containing 20 live ammunition.
The PNP and the Armed Forces leaderships have vowed to further step up their crackdown against all identified PAGs in the country to help ensure they won’t be used by rogue politicians to threaten their rivals and non-supporters in next year’s elections.
Security officials are currently validating the presence of 127 potential PAGs in Bangsamoro Administrative Region. However, latest validation showed that only three of these PAGS remain active in the region.
Gen. Carlos assured they are working on all measures to address the primary threat to the election. He was referring to PAG members who are acting as ‘bullies or guards’ to instill fear or influence the outcome of the election.