By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Police and military hierarchies have warned about use of goons and guns for intimidation in the 2022 elections, announcing the disbandment of 13 private armed groups (PAGs) operating in Mindanao.
National Police Chief General Guillermo Eleazar and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Jose Faustino Jr. made the announcements in a statement from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP).
The OPAPP issued the statement on Saturday, even as Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu urged higher authorities on the same day to sanction the recruitment of paramilitary men and activation of military reservists that may be used as “partisan” fronts in the electoral processes for next year’s synchronized elections.
“Higher authorities should regulate use of Special Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units Active Auxiliary (SCAA) and military reservists in prelude to ensuring peaceful and free elections in Mindanao,” Rep. Mangudadatu said in Filipino on Saturday live over the Tapatan Forum of the Bangsamoro Press Corps (BPC).
SCAA units are meant to serve as AFP auxiliary forces assigned to protect private companies, particularly natural resources firms, according to published government guidelines.
But Mangudadatu said he had received a report that SCAA units and military reservists in Army uniforms were poised in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat to serve allegedly in political activities relative to the 2022.
He said he had conveyed the report privately to President Duterte when regional officials and political leaders including him met in Malacañang on October 26 and 27.
PNP and AFP remarks
The OPAPP statement, a copy of which reached the Philippine Muslim Today news, contained pronouncement from Generals Eleazar and Faustino concerning the forthcoming elections and the thrusts of the National Task Force on Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (NTF-DPAG).
“I am humbly asking all (politicians), especially those who are running for a position in the local government (units), to cease from using your goons and guns to intimidate the voters because we will not allow it,” OPAPP quoted Eleazar as saying.
OPAPP added that Gen. Faustino echoed Eleazar’s position to renew the AFP commitment to disband PAGS.
“The whole AFP gives its full support and commitment to ensure that we sustain the success and victory from past gains in the creation of the NTF-DPAGs,” Faustino said.
Gen. Eleazar, the OPAPP statement said, reported the disbandment of 13 PAGs with 67 members and 64 firearms in the NTF-DPAGs campaign in the Bangsamoro region and Region 12.
The disbandment came via voluntary surrenders of the PAGs and their guns by incumbent elected municipal leaders in Maguindanao and Region 12, Eleazar’s report showed.
“The disbandment…is a no compromise government commitment to the Bangsamoro people. Let us work together to bring lasting peace and sustainable development here in Mindanao,” OPAPP quoted Eleazar as telling reporters in Gen. Santos City.
Eleazar warned candidates in 2022 elections not to use PAGs in their campaign sorties, urging stakeholders’ unity “to realize our shared aspirations of a Bangsamoro that is free from armed groups, threat, intimidation and violence.”
Moro fronts vs. PAGs
The leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-Sema group expressed full support to the national governments’ efforts against lawless elements, OPAPP said.
“MILF Chairman and BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim emphasized how private armed groups can adversely affect the peace and security situation in Mindanao by propagating the culture of fear and violence,” it said.
Ebrahim reportedly added: “To truly put peace in place, the Bangsamoro and other regions should put their weapons down and participate in nation-building. By having PAGs roaming around, our people cannot live in peace and trust that Mindanao has departed from its conflict-stricken history.”
“I thank our dear partners from the National Task Force for putting this into work. The (MILF) as the leading entity of the interim Bangsamoro Government will stay true to its word and assist the GPH (government) in all efforts related to the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” he added.
For his part, MNLF Chairman Muslimin Sema recalled how the PAGs can undermine the conduct of elections based on the region’s history.
“PAGs are the primary instruments in the disenfranchisement of the electorate. The MNLF supports by all means the disbandment of PAGs. We have experienced it. It was the PAGs of the 70s who massacred our people which caused the Moros to rise up in arms,” OPAPP quoted Sema as saying at a press conference in en. Santos City.
Sema also called on all sectors of society to support the peacekeeping efforts of the task force, saying “This is not a one man job so we must support the NTF on DPAGs.”
Meanwhile, OPAPP said, Interior and Local Government Sec. Eduardo Año underscored the crucial mandate of the task force to maintain peace and order as well as protect the democracy in the region.
“At present, we are upfront in realizing the mission of the NTF-DPAGs to (convening) government instrumentalities to thwart the proliferation of PAGs in the BARMM and its adjacent regions,” Año reportedly said.
“Our work experiences a lot of challenges but we will not falter in our quest to address threats in the communities and see peace in the Bangsamoro,” he added.
For his part, Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr., who is the NTF-DPAGs special adviser, said the gains of the task force stemmed from its “whole-of-government approach.”
Secretaries Galvez and Año were present at the BARMM regional officials and constituent-politicians’ meeting at the Palace on Oct. 26 and 27, Rep. Mangudadatu said. (AGM)