Philippines: New MOA to bring back AFP to ensure clean and peaceful 2010 polls

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Manila (23 December) -- THE Defense Department and the Commission on Elections are working on a new Memorandum of Agreement that will put the Armed Forces of the Philippines at the "full disposal" of the poll body "to safeguard the sanctity of the 2010 elections."

Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales yesterday said the new MOA will redefine the role of the AFP during elections to check private armed groups in many areas of the country and to prevent a repeat of the Maguindanao tragedy.

The new MOA is also intended to help prevent a repeat of the issues that resulted from the 2004 and 2007 elections, Gonzales added.

"A technical working group is now going into its details," the defense chief said.

The new MOA will replace the 2007 agreement between the DND-AFP and the Comelec which prohibits soldiers from escorting candidates and election paraphernalia during elections, among others.

"Instead of shying away from their responsibility, our armed forces will meet the challenge head on. We will show that the AFP is the true protector of our democracy and our people's will. We will prove the detractors of our soldiers wrong," Gonzales emphasized.

Already, a new Comelec resolution allowing a maximum of two soldiers to protect candidates in election hot spots has made the 2007 MOA moot and academic. The poll body has also announced imposing a total gun ban during the election period.

Gonzales said the defense establishment and the AFP held a dialogue with the Comelec in response to Comelec chair Jose Melo's expression of need for "an environment that will allow Comelec to do its work."

Gonzales, who is concurrently the National Security Adviser, noted that there are at least 132 private armed groups in the country and about one million loose firearms.

Gonzales expressed concern that the country's intelligence sector was monitoring heavy purchase of weapons by local politicians apparently in preparation for the forthcoming elections. This is happening even in provinces not previously known for election violence, he said.

"If left unchecked, this situation will result in the subversion of the true will of our people," the defense chief said. He pointed out that there was a pattern of daily political killings in the country even before the election season. (PIA)