THE Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces chiefs vowed to step up their crackdown against all identified Partisan Armed Groups (PAGs) to help ensure they won’t be used by rogue politicians to threaten their rivals and non-supporters in next year’s elections.
Security officials are currently validating the presence of 127 potential PAGs in the Bangsamoro Administrative Region. However, latest validation showed that only three of these PAGS remain active in the region.
“We assure the nation that the primary threat to the election will always be addressed. These PAGs are always present acting as bullies or guards to instill fear or influence the outcome of the election,” said PNP chief General Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar during a meeting of top officials the National Task Force created to dismantle PAGs in General Santos City.
Citing previous atrocities and other violent acts committed by PAGs in some parts of the country in the past, Gen. Eleazar said they are particularly focusing their efforts in dismantling PAGs in Bangsamoro Administrative Region and in Region 12 or Soccsksargen region.
He specifically cited the infamous November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao where 58 persons including family members and supporters of then Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu and 32 local media personalities were gunned down by the group of Zaldy and Andal ‘Unsay’ Ampatuan Jr.
“We look forward to the expansion of the task force to protect the voters and help Comelec uphold the nobility of the election as embodied in the constitution,” Gen. Eleazar said.
According to the top cop, they are also zeroing in on areas with history of intense political rivalries and considerable presence of PAGs as well as the New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf Group and ISIS-inspired Maute Group and other lawless elements in Mindanao.
Gen. Eleazar said the PNP, in coordination with the AFP headed by Gen. Jose Faustino, is thoroughly validating the list and other information regarding existing PAGs in the country.
“Hindi kami papayag na gamitin ang PAGs sa eleksyon. We are also warning candidates from paying so-called Permit to Campaign fees to the NPA. If we find that you are collaborating with terrorist groups, the full force of the law will be applied on you,” he told erring politicians.
Eleazar and Faustino said it is their commitment to work together to bring lasting peace in Mindanao and the rest of the country and need all the help they can get from other government agencies and the citizenry in attaining their mission.
The meeting was also attended by Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Moro National Liberation Front chairman Muslimin Sema, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim.
Sema said it is a fact that past victims of PAGs in Mindanao—those with relatives who were killed as a result of land-grabbing and massacres as well as political assassinations—have joined armed rebel groups since they know that it is only thru these groups that they can get justice.
“Yung mga biktima ng PAGs, kadalasan sumasali sa mga rebeldeng grupo dahil hindi sila nakakakuha ng hustisya. Not only that, PAGs are the main instrument being used in the disenfranchisement of voters,” said Sema, adding that he was speaking from experience.
“I was once a victim of failed assassination. We have experienced it because the PAGs in the 70s massacred our people and tried to assassinate me.
“Imagine the scenario when I was shot by an assassin. I was placed in a situation where all my commanders and relatives were ready to use their arms but I never chose to retaliate because I know the result would be catastrophic to the people of Cotabato City. Thus, this kind of violence perpetrated by a few to the detriment of many should be stopped,” he said.
The MNLF leader admitted that PAGs in the region also provide “shelter” to drug lords.
“When President Duterte hit the narco-politicians, it weakened them terribly,” he said without mentioning names.
However, he said the MNLF is fully behind efforts of the government to disband PAGs in the country and at the same time seek time to explore all possibilities to normalize and speed up the peace process.
Galvez and Año stressed the need of the government to have the support of all stakeholders to end the culture of gun and violence in Mindanao through the disbandment of PAGs.
Ano said PAGs continue to exist due to several factors such as the level of human security, the gun culture, ‘Rido’ or clan wars, political dynasties and exploitation of government security forces.
However, he said the PNP and the AFP are fully addressing the problem.
He said since November last year, 13 PAGs have already been dismantled by security forces due to their ‘whole-of-nation-approach’ to the problem.
The disbanded PAGs were identified as Datu Tha Sinsuat, Dilangalen, Ibay, Panggalan, Abo, Matalam, Mamasabulod, Sabal, Akmad Ampatuan, Montawal, Tamano Mamalapat in the BARMM; and Mudia, and Bungay PAGs in Region 12.
MILF chair Ebrahim for his part said they are pleased to join the “wonderful initiative to disband PAGs in the region” and will stay true to their word that they will assist in implementing the comprehensive program versus PAGs.
“The gravity of the problem brought about by the presence of PAGs in BARMM is an important issue specially with the forthcoming polls. We need them to put their weapons down and participate in nation-building since by having PAGs roaming around, we cannot have peace,” he said.
During the meeting, Gen. Eleazar and Lieutenant Gen. Jose Chiquito M. Malayo, the director of the PNP Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-Western Mindanao presented 10 PAG members who have surrendered and turned over 64 of their weapons.
The PNP chief said the 10 were among the 93 PAG members in the region who have yielded along with 83 high-powered firearms and ammunition.
Lt. Gen. Malayo said their latest validation report showed there are two PAGs in Region 12 with 14 members and three in BARMM with 183 members. The five PAGs have a total number of 174 firearms.