File photo of a PAG member in Maguindanao surrendering his high-powered weapon to the military.
By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — As of the First Quarter of the year, the National Task Force for the Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (NTF-DPAGs) has so far disbanded six private armed groups operating in this province of Maguindanao from January to March this year.
This was learned from Western Mindanao Task Force DPAG commander Lieutenant General Jose Chiquito Malayo, who presented the task force’s accomplishments during the Third Oversight Committee Meeting of the NTF-DPAGs.
“This is the result of intensified efforts and activities in bringing down the number of active PAGs and clear evidence to the lawless groups that the government is determined to uphold peace and order in the Bangsamoro,” Malayo said.
On the other hand, Eastern Mindanao NTF-DPAG commander Brigadier Gen. Honorio Agnila bared that private armed groups which have been “downgraded” are no longer engaged in criminal activities.
“Continuous monitoring and preventive actions were (conducted) by the task force against dismantled, delisted or downgraded PAGs to avoid their resurgence that can be used by politicians in the upcoming national elections,” Agnila cited.
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the landmark agreement signed by the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014, provides for a comprehensive approach in strengthening peace and order, as well as addressing emerging security concerns in the Bangsamoro region.
This includes the disbandment of private armed groups, the implementation of a program for small arms and light weapons management, the redeployment of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), policing, and the clearing of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines.
Defense assistant secretary Angelito De Leon underscored the importance of convening regularly to discuss developments in the program and what other steps can be done to ensure its success and bring lasting peace in the whole of Mindanao.
“This meeting is a reminder of the path that we all took to reach this stage in the (Bangsamoro) peace process. Peace requires hard work and commitment. Let us be reminded that failure in this endeavor (NTF-DPAGs) is not an option—as the alternative to peace is costly and burdensome,” De Leon pointed out.
Also during the meeting, interior and local government undersecretary and officer-in-charge Bernardo Florece Jr., emphasized that the work being done by the task force is both timely and crucial, particularly in keeping the 2022 elections safe, credible, and democratic.
“Now is the time to take decisive actions to disband PAGs and convince their members to abandon their gun-wielding activities. We must build on the gains of our initiatives to wield out and ultimately end PAGs for they don’t deserve room for a just society,” Florece stressed.
“With the group’s strategic plan in place, we should be able to address the root causes of PAGs in key priority areas and facilitate an inclusive and active participation of all sectors of society in the pursuit of peace,” he added.
The undersecretary likewise brought to the fore the firm commitment of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in dismantling PAGs, saying “. . . rest assured that we in the Department of Interior and Local Government, are ready to render any necessary assistance, the DILG will remain focused on disbanding PAGs in the country.”
Meanwhile, presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. reiterated his guidance to members of the task force as they conduct operations against PAGs.
Galvez reminded them to implement community-based activities, noting, “a comprehensive peace process should be community-based and aims to establish a genuinely pluralistic society, where all individuals and groups are free to engage in our different activities and programs.”
He also emphasized the need to decrease the number of PAGs before the 2022 elections.
“It is critical to eliminate as many active PAGs as we can to protect and uphold democracy and weaken the culture of violence in the region,” the peace adviser said. (AI|MTVN)