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(UPDATED - 6:39 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines - The priority of newly appointed Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II is to dismantle private armed groups, President Benigno Aquino III said on Friday after he announced that his losing running mate in the 2010 polls would replace the late DILG chief Jesse Robredo.
Aquino said the disbanding and disarming of local private armed groups maintained by warlords or politically powerful families should be on top of Roxas' agenda especially with the approaching mid-term elections.
The Aquino administration has not yet succeeded in its goal of dismantling the groups.
Last March, Aquino instructed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to double their efforts in dismantling the armies. He said he wanted to have all the groups dismantled before the 2013 polls.
Comprehensive security plan
In May, Aquino also ordered Robredo to come up with a comprehensive security plan for the 2013 elections that would include the dismantling of some 80 private armies nationwide controlled by local political clans.
At the time, Robredo also said that he was hoping that the DILG would be able to dismantle the groups before next year's polls.
At least 28 private armies had already been dismantled, according to government data. As of November 30, 2011, the police said 86 armed groups nationwide remained on their list.
This month, before Robredo died in a plane crash off Masbate City on August 18, civil society groups belonging to the Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement urged the DILG chief to dismantle the Sulu militia, Civilian Emergency Force, which the group claimed had allegedly become the private army of the province's governor, Abdusakur Tan.
Tan was among the five Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governors who last July jumped to the Liberal Party from former President Gloria Macapagal-Arrroyo's Lakas-Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-Kampi-CMD) party.
Also, last July, Governor Douglas Cagas said that four private armed groups still existed in Davao del Sur.
According to Cagas, the groups who carry long, high-powered firearms "are supported by certain military and police officials" and were being maintaoined to sow chaos in in the coming 2013 polls.
On Friday, after his appointment, Roxas announced that "all co-terminus positions (at the DILG) will now be vacant."
Aquino said Roxas has a free hand to bring in his own people to the DILG.
"We are giving Mar the freedom to choose his own people, including the heads of the agencies under the DILG," Aquino said.
The following agencies are under the DILG: PNP, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine Public Safety College, Local Government Academy, and the National Police Commission.
Appointment linked to 2013, 2016 polls
Meanwhile, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Aquino's appoinment of Roxas “has more to do with the upcoming 2013 elections than anything else.”
“It seems the Liberal Party has gotten the upper hand on this one. It wants control of a department that has strategic value for the upcoming 2013 elections and eventually the 2016 elections," Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes Jr. said in a statement issued on Friday.
According to Reyes, "The perception is that his appointment is intended to give the Liberal Party an undue advantage in the upcoming polls."
"At the very least, Roxas should take a leave from the Liberal Party at least up until after the 2013 elections, though it is highly unlikely he will,” he added.