The existence of private armies in the country is a menace that must be viewed beyond the shortsighted political menagerie we always want to associate it with. On the contrary, these are actually pockets of feudalism that have been influenced by a host of socio-economic factors, chiefly due to familial, partisan, and opportunistic structures.
Of course, sociologists point the proliferation of the private armies to family hierarchies bound by traditions that have turned into images of gargoyles overtime. Some private militia forces, meanwhile, are also religious in association, the most significant being the Ecleo army in the island-province of Dinagat decades ago.
The lure of joining the private armies, moreover, is not just pecuniary; it is also about the power that comes with being issued guns either to secure a powerful figure or protect his assets. Among landowners, having a militia force means securing legally acquired lands or using it to grab other people’s lands.
Both ways, a private army outlines the essence of control and authority.
Private armies, sad to say, proliferate not because they cannot be controlled or regulated. Because they have become fixtures in society, they are getting the protection from regional, provincial, city, and municipal law enforcement agencies that arbitrarily issue memorandum orders, permits to carry firearms, and mission orders even if such functions are exclusive only to the designated firearms and explosives agencies.
Dismantling private armies and, by extension, confiscating the firearms issued to their members, booth loose and licensed, is a challenging task. Because they have been allowed to prosper freely, the roots nurtured through the years make their undoing a dreadful task.
Private armies, moreover, are not just loose forces constituted by affluent persons by recruiting ordinary folks. Many of the militias are comprised of discharged soldiers, security guards, ex-convicts, thugs, fugitives, and hooligans, and active law enforcers who moonlight during their off hours often with the tacit recognition of their superiors.
On the other hand, well-organized militias that conform to legal parameters can be considered as ‘public protectors’ in case there is a breakdown of law and order or those in law enforcement have become passive to popular clamor. But no matter how ideal this perspective is, still we must treat private armies as a social feature that contrasts with what the fundamental law of the land requires.
To contain, control, or regulate private armies, the first steps are to implement what the laws demand, to make a no-nonsense effort in running after them and their loose firearms, and to conduct a continuing dialogue between those who own them. Even more significant will be the cutting of the umbilical cord that illicit links the private militias to law enforcement agencies, which has become the source of corrupt and unholy alliance.