THE Philippine National Police (PNP) is monitoring 77 private armed groups, 72 of which are based in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

Based on data in the second quarter of 2018, the rest of the private armed groups are based in Masbate, and Abra.

"Unfortunately...72 of them are in ARMM. These are data that is still being validated so it will change over time," Chief Supt. Benigno Durana Jr. told reporters.

"Probably, they will think twice or plant kamote if it's still possible for them because even before they can flex their muscles, they are already being targeted," he said.

The 77 private armed groups have 2,060 members and 1,574 firearms, Durana said.

He said there were 166 "potential" private armed groups with 2,028 members and more than 1,000 firearms.

Durana said these "potential" private armed groups were usually inactive and would appear only once it's the "market season," which could be during the election season.

To counter these private armed groups, Durana said the PNP was deploying Special Action Force (SAF) members in traditional election hotspots.

PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde previously ordered all police regional offices and national support units to go "hammer and tongs" in countering private armed groups and gun-for-hire syndicates to prevent politically-motivated violence that may occur ahead of the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC).

The PNP said it has arrested 49 members of private armed groups and gun-for-hire syndicates in Calabarzon last July.

It is also evaluating areas to determine whether they are considered election hotspots. ROY NARRA