Manila: Authorities in the Philippines are closely monitoring the activities of some 77 private armed groups in the run-up to the May 2019 mid-term elections, a senior official has said.

According to Philippine National Police (PNP) director-general Oscar Albayalde, these private armed groups are dispersed in some 8,000 areas of the country considered as “election hot spots.”

“Based on the assessment the PNP has conducted, a large number of these private armed groups are based in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),” he said.

Albayalde said police were also closely watching gun-for-hire syndicates that are usually employed by corrupt politicians and drug kingpins to carry out assassinations before and during elections.

The Philippines will be holding its mid-term elections sometime in May 2019.

Thousands of hopefuls will be vying for positions in the Senate and Congress as well as governors, mayors and local board members.

The filing of candidacy with the Commission on Elections started last Thursday and will continue until October 17.

Weeks before the elections, a number of politicians have already fallen to assassins’ bullets. On October 1, mayor Alexander Boquing of Sudipen, in northern Philippines’ La Union, and two of his companions were killed in an ambush. His wife, vice-mayor Wendy Boquing survived but was wounded in the attack.

A special investigating body has been formed to look into the issue, but reports said Boquing had no known connections to drug groups.

Assassinations usually take place weeks before the elections are held as rival politicians — some of whom are providing protection to underworld drugs or gambling syndicates — vie for dominance in their respective turfs.

More than a dozen politicians had been assassinated since 2016, some were identified by the government earlier to have links with drug syndicates.

The fight against drugs and so-called “narco-politics” can hardly be considered as a one sided battle.

On October 5, five agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) were killed in an ambush staged at a secluded area along the highway in the town of Kapai in Lanao del Sur.

Agency director Aaron Aquino said they had already identified 85 “narco-politicians” and are monitoring their activities during the election period.

Aquino said these narco-politicians are among the 6,000 individuals being monitored for drug links.

In an interview with radio station dzMM, Aquino said among the 6,000 individuals being watched — among them civilians, media, celebrities and even judges.

In 2009, one of the worst election-related killing in the country took place in Maguindanao when some 59 people were massacred at a secluded portion near a highway in the town of Ampatuan.