Crush private armies, PNP chief tells Samar cops
TACLOBAN CITY—Dismantle private armies of politicians or be relieved.
Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Philippine National Police chief, gave this marching order to the top police chief of Samar province, Senior Supt. Elmer Pelobello, in a news conference following a round of visits to police offices in Eastern Visayas last week.
“My order is for you to dismantle the PAGs (private army groups) in your area,” Dela Rosa told Pelobello. “I don’t care if these are identified with the Tans or Sarmientos (prominent political families in Samar).”
He was referring to the family of Gov. Sharee Ann Tan, whose mother, Milagrosa, is representative of Samar’s second district in Congress. Her brother, Stephen James, is the vice governor, while his wife, Stephanie, is mayor of Catbalogan City.
The Sarmiento clan includes former Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento, who once served as representative of Samar’s first district in Congress and mayor of Calbayog City, where most private armies operate.
The directive stemmed from the appeal of Calbayog Mayor Ronaldo Aquino to dismantle private armies in his city and other towns.
Aquino, a close ally of Sarmiento, claimed that the groups were behind the spate of killings in Calbayog.
Records from the Calbayog police showed that six people were killed in September alone. The latest fatality, Darwin Tan, Payahan barangay chair, was gunned down on Sept. 9.
“I will relieve you if you cannot dismantle them,” Dela Rosa told Pelobello. “And tell them to surrender or die.”
In a text message, Governor Tan said she welcomed the PNP chief’s directive, saying she had made a similar request in the past.
“We hope this time will be different. We hope they will be arrested, especially those with warrants of arrest,” she said.
The governor denied that her family was maintaining a private army.
Sarmiento could not be reached for comment. He had earlier denied that he or his family was keeping a private army.
Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar, police regional director, said lawmen in the region would follow the order of Dela Rosa.
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