The “Presidentiables” and Mindanao 2010-2016 (4): On loose firearms and warlords

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 April) — On November 29, 2008, then National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales told a gathering of young Mindanawon leaders in Davao City that there are an estimated 200,000 loose firearms in Mindanao, about 50,000 of them in the hands of rebels.

“So how do we achieve peace in Mindanao?” he asked.

Based on estimates, he said, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) may have from 10,000 to 15,000 guns; the Moro National Liberation Front may have “5, 6, 7, 8,000 firearms.”

“How about the NPA? Abu Sayyaf? Rajah Sulayman Group?”

“The MILF and MNLF, they are willing to demobilize, willing to disarm but they’re asking ‘how about the Ampatuan family? They also carry firearms. That family? This family? They all have guns’,” Gonzales said a year before the Ampatuan massacre of November 23, 2009 where at least 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, were killed after they were stopped by armed men believed led by Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr.

Gonzales suggested a proper accounting of firearms, among other possible solutions. But how?

How will the next President deal with loose firearms? Warlords? The Presidential aspirants’ answers here become even more interesting given that the interviews were done before the massacre happened.

On Loose firearms

Aquino:
You have all the Constitutional provisions. The setting up of the private armies is unlawful. Yung even going to persuasion muna. The amnesty period. You can try methods like … they have the so called “buy back” schemes. You purchase all of these firearms. You also go into penalties for how these firearms leaked from the lawful possessors into the hands of people who are not authorized to do so. And your police and your military forces should be religious in their observance of all the pertinent laws. If they are not instruments of the justice system, if they are uneven in terms of application of all of our laws, then you will have people disenchanted, disenfranchised, they will take the law into their own hands.

Estrada:
Precisely, precisely…

Gord Gordon:
I will license all loose firearms. I’ll create a minute man, a militia out there, both of Christians and Muslims. And they don’t have to be in the military. They will have their armory where they can put their weapons. And I will allow them one weapon or defense sufficient to protect their home. But I will have them legalized. I will have them, I will know who’s got them and anybody who’s got no license and caught, I will punish them to the hilt.
I mean I’m giving you this opportunity to license your firearm and I even lower the cost of license in the firearms but we have to know who these firearms belong to and we have to make sure that there is education. When we say I have to license firearms, even to the ‘no read no write’ farmer, I will license your firearms provided you take education on handling the firearm.

Perlas:
We will make sure that if there are any firearms, these are licensed for good reasons and those that are out loose, they would be confiscated. And the only way that it can become easy for them to be confiscated is that the people who are holding the loose firearms will not feel the need to protect themselves. From the lawlessness and the kind of lack of wanton law and order, if that is established and there’s meaningful presence and a disciplined and a reformed military and police, I don’t think there would be a need to actually carry those firearms because we will re-institutionalize peace and order by reforming both the military and the police, the rogue elements of which are very much part of the looseness of these firearms.

Teodoro:
There’s only one way. There should be no loose fire arms, and a pure disarmament is what is necessary. That’s the context of DDR really and that will give lasting peace to Mindanao because there are so many contending factions. If one of these factions is armed, remains armed then you don’t have peace. And now, how do we have to do it? We do it phase by phase in selected areas and just constrict them. We cannot do it in one blow. We have only 120,000 soldiers and 130,000 policemen, much much smaller than our neighbors with populations of one fourth of the population of the Philippines only. We are an archipelagic country. We have to do it phase by phase and give them incentives to surrender their firearms. They will only do that if they can be protected also. If they are not protected and be left as sitting ducks which means leaving them to their deaths which cannot be done also.

Villar:
Kasama sa paglutas ng problema sa Mindanao ay yun din pagpapalakas ng Armed Forces kasi hangga’t hindi mo binibigyan ng isang desenteng puwersa, o lakas ang Armed Forces natin, ay parang wala yan, istorya lang yan.

Dapat palakasin mo sila to a point na pag sinabi nilang ito gagawin nila, kaya nilang gawin yun. And ang mahalaga dito kasi madami na masyado sa ating Armed Forces ng walang equipment, walang gamit, kaya pagka sila ay nagsabing hahabulin namin yan o pipigilin namin yan, hindi rin nila magagawa, and nawawalan ng tiwala ang ating mga kababayan din.

Policy on the warlords?

Aquino:
I am in the process of thinking exactly how to deal with them pero the minimum is, all the stereotypes of what a warlord means, should not be allowed to happen. At the same time, in the transition period, there has to be some means whereby, how should I put it? You don’t want, when you disband the so-called private armies, (this) will also introduce a period of instability also which might lead to more violence so there has to be a transition period and a phasing in and a phasing out.

Estrada:
We will go out there, go out against them. We will see to it that there will be certainty of punishment to all those who violate the law.

Gordon:

Warlords should be dismantled. One of the reasons perpetually — not all of them you
have people like, I even wrote a resolution for him here in Congress – Datu Paglas who did very very well as a local government executive. He belongs to the well to do family but they can do it. I mean, the so called warlords, if we wanna call them warlords I don’t wanna call them warlords. Also called power elite, they have to make sure thatthe time must come that they must share the blessings of independence and freedom.I mean I would not maintain the main power I would tell them they’re on their own. ButI will tell people that they have
now the right to call the president I would give my cell phone to any personwho would ask for myself and then for my help, so long as theydon’t ask me for load.

Perlas:
Definitely warlords are remnant of the past of the feudal past of the Philippines. The past that where you have the rich basically creating the laws of the country therefore what has to happen is that the government has to have the will to create the conditions of peace and order so that landlordism and warlordism will have no justification. So it’s a similar situation and if this landlords and warlords continue to have private armies because they want to protects specific interest that are against the state and against the people then they will have to be disarmed and abandoned. The reason why I can say that is because if I ever win as president, it’s not because I owe any debts to the existing political structure of the rich landlords and the rich families who would have the warlords. They will be approached in a dignified manner mentioning to them that we are going to inaugurate a new era in Philippine politics and that that kind of behavior that depends on warlord and goons is not acceptable to the new politics.

Teodoro:
Well the warlords really are a function of disarmament and number two is strengthening the political system. Warlords are alternatives to local political infrastructure and national political infrastructure. If the political infrastructure, I don’t say the political leader but the infrastructure of the institution, is strong then a warlord will become irrelevant.

Villar:
Kasama na yun. Ito kasi hindi mo rin malulutas kung mahina ang Armed Forces mo eh. Matatakot din ang Armed Forces. Hindi mo kailangan din na kapag sinabi ng Armed Forces na tumigil kayo, titigil yan.Kailangan palaksin yan (Armed Forces). [Tomorrow: Logging, Mining, Bananas] (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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