In Laguna, federalism drive starts with storm aid
SAN PEDRO CITY — Volunteers, who described themselves as loyal “warriors” of President Rodrigo Duterte, have started recruiting members to push the proposed government shift to federalism.
The group is called Sincere Warriors of Rodrigo Duterte-Advocating Federalism and President Support Movement (SWORD-AFPSM), or “Sword” to its members.
“As the (group’s name) implies, we are composed of people advocating federalism,” said Christopher Sanji, Sword’s chapter chair in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) region.
In Laguna province, the group’s first public activity was Tuesday’s relief drive for 1,500 families affected by Tropical Depression “Maring.”
Maring dumped heavy rains in the region last week and left at least four people dead and P18-million worth of crop and infrastructure damage. The Laguna government declared the province under a state of calamity.
Sanji said the relief drive was a “social responsibility” component of the group’s advocacy.
Mr. Duterte has long been campaigning for a shift to a federal form of government, which he believed would solve underdevelopment and the conflict driven by extremist groups in Mindanao.
Sanji said Sword was convened by Dioscoro Esteban Jr. in June and was launched in Calabarzon in August. The group claims membership of around 300,000 around the country, about 60,000 of which from Laguna alone.
The group’s name does not appear when searched in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website. Sanji said Sword had just finished working on the requirements for a SEC registration this month.
He said the group, despite being vocal about its support for the President, remained an “independent” and nonpolitical organization.
Esteban, he said, was part of the so-called “Marco Polo 15,” the Davao City-based group that convinced Mr. Duterte, then Davao mayor, to seek the presidency.
Esteban was also a complainant in the 2016 treason and espionage case filed against former President Benigno Aquino III and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV over the latter’s back-channel negotiations with China. The Ombudsman later dismissed the case.
According to Sanji, also the information officer of the Laguna government, the group also supports the President’s other programs, like its anticorruption campaign and the war against illegal drugs that has so far claimed thousands of lives in police operations.
He said Sword works in support of the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga (Masa- Masid) program. The project recruits civilians to help report to authorities any illegal drug and criminal activity in the community.
A few weeks ago, a photograph of Sword’s membership form circulated online, with captions saying it was being distributed in some Laguna villages.
Manuel Gotis, DILG Calabarzon director, however, said he had not heard of the group.
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