In his second year as chief executive, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he will invoke the Alunan doctrine on what constitutes a private army in the upcoming months in preparation for the elections. File photo shows the president speaking at the National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) celebration in Mindanao at the SMX Convention Center in Lanang, Davao City in 2018. (Photo courtesy by CNN)
Kung ang bodyguard ninyo maganda, palusutin ko kayo pero iwan ninyo ang bodyguard.
— President Rodrigo Roa Duterte
WITH the 2022 national elections barely a year away, we look into private armies and electoral violence as persistent phenomena in our society. Together both have cost thousands of lives and sowed fear among politicians and voters alike, weakening democracy in our country.
Defenders of private armies note their critical role in counter-insurgency operations against communist and Muslim separatist groups. Nonetheless, Filipinos generally perceive private armies to be a menace, which has prompted the government to establish mechanisms to eliminate them.
Recently, the National Task Force for the Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (NTF-DPAGs) disbanded eight private armed groups operating in the province of Maguindanao and General Santos City, this within the first two quarters of the current year. The disbandment of these groups was announced by Lieutenant General Jose Chiquito Malayo, commander of the Task Force Western Mindanao of the NTF-DPAGs.
We consider the recent milestones of the NTF DPAGs, particularly on the increasing number of disbanded PAGs, as a manifestation of the government’s commitment in maintaining peace and order in Mindanao.
The disbanded private armed groups include Datu Tha Sinsuat, Ibay, Pananggalan, Dingalen, Matalam, Abo and Mamasabulod in Maguindanao and the Mudia Group in General Santos City.
It is fortunate that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which is the landmark peace 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.
These lines of effort 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.
Aside from successfully disbanding PAGs in Western Mindanao, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has also rolled out its program for the disbandment of private armed groups last May 11, 2021. The program’s main objectives are to ensure the maintenance of peace and security in localities, increase the awareness level of local government units on NTF-DPAGs, and capacitate local government units (LGUs) so they can help NTF-DPAGs in the implementation of peace and security interventions.
Meanwhile, during a recent meeting, task force officials proposed the creation of the National Task Group on Rehabilitation and Reintegration under the NTF-DPAGs to further provide a holistic approach in the disbandment of PAGs.
NTF-DPAGs Secretariat head and joint normalization co-chair Ariel Hernandez explained that the national task group aims “to determine the socio-economic assistance to be given to the surrendered members of PAGs, and other components rehabilitation and reintegration components.”
Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año approved the creation of the task group.
For us, this is very important because the initiative will complete the circle in ensuring that members of private armies will not go back again into bearing arms and joining other groups
The fact is that the government must utilize the ‘whole-of-nation’ approach to completely dismantle private armed groups. These groups must be provided with the necessary incentives such as livelihood assistance, rehabilitation programs and reintegration opportunities.
In this too, the help of LGUs and communities is needed to ensure that the goal of disbanding PAGs may be realized and this should be done soon with the 2022 national elections barely a year away. (AI/MTVN)