On Mindanao, a Philippine island known for its violence, a political clan commanded a private militia force more powerful than the local police or army presence.
That was the estimation of the U.S. embassy in 2009, according to documents made public via Wikileaks.
"We estimate that the Ampatuan clan maintains a private army of up to 2,000 men -- who are often better armed and equipped than their (police) and (military) counterparts," wrote a former ambassador, according to AFP.
That clan's "private army," however, has been largely disarmed. Members of the family are in prison facing charges of ordering an all-out massacre in 2009. Their gunmen are accused of shooting dead 57 political rivals, reporters and others as elections neared in 2010.
The clan had amassed power "using wealth accumulated by a combination of legitimate business, strong arm tactics and corruption," according to the U.S. cables.
Diplomats also wrote that similar families in the Philippines are so well armed that cops and troops have a "very limited capability to impose order."