KIDAPAWAN CITY — Acting Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity, Secretary Isidro Purisima vowed to strengthen the national government’s “whole-of-nation” approach in addressing the security situation in the Bangsamoro and adjacent areas.

This was the commitment made by Purisima during the National Task Force on Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (NTF-DPAGS) oversight committee meeting, which was held for the first time in Central Mindanao on Wednesday, March 15.

“To sustain our efforts, the peacekeeping interventions of the task force must also complement conflict-sensitive and peacebuilding approaches and methods. We must ensure that people are safe from harm, have access to law and justice, are included in political decisions that affect them, have access to better economic opportunities, and enjoy better livelihoods,” Purisima said.

According to the acting peace adviser, the Normalization Program under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) provides for a comprehensive approach to strengthening peace and order, and addressing emerging security concerns in the Bangsamoro region.

Peacekeeping initiatives under the CAB include the disbandment of private armed groups, the implementation of a program for small arms and light weapons management, the redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), policing, and the clearing of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines, among others.

“Admittedly, there’s still much work to be done, especially since the 2025 regular BARMM elections is just two years away. The task force shall remain focused and determined in fulfilling its mission, as it continues to respond to existing and emerging realities on the ground,” he added.


Proposed expansion of coverage

Meanwhile, top officials of the NTF-DPAGS are eyeing to expand the body’s area of coverage, in line with its mandate of dismantling private armies and identifying existing hotspots where local government officials are being attacked.

NTF-DPAGS Chairperson and Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos emphasized that the “jointness and synergy of efforts” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are crucial to expanding the body’s mandate across the nation.

“Kung noon ay nakatuon lamang ang atensyon ng task force sa Mindanao, ngayon ay layunin nating palawakin ang saklaw ng NTF-DPAGs upang ang mga nagawa natin rito sa Mindanao ay maramdaman rin ng ating mga kababayan sa iba pang bahagi ng bansa,” Abalos said.

Following the fatal shooting of Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo earlier this month, Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito G. Galvez Jr. stressed that the task force’s mandate has become “more urgent.”

According to Galvez, this task has gained greater urgency with the directive of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to address the wave of attacks being perpetrated by lawless elements.

“This pronouncement was made in the wake of the brutal shooting in Pamplona, Negros Oriental on the morning of March 4, 2023, that killed Governor Roel Degamo and eight others, and also injured 17 of his constituents, an act we strongly condemn,” he said.

The issue of private armed groups in the country was brought to the fore with the recent spate of violence against several local chief executives.


No more active DPAGs for the First Quarter

The national government’s program on DPAGs is being carried out through the security component of the Normalization Track under the CAB, the landmark peace agreement signed between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014.

According to PBGen Victor Wanchakan, the APC-Western Mindanao Deputy Commander, there are no more active private armed groups operating in his area as of the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, for PLtGen Filmore Escobal, APC- Eastern Mindanao Commander, the roll-out of an information campaign in the region has created a greater awareness among the general public of the task force’s peacekeeping interventions.

Escobal also emphasized the importance of conducting community engagement activities, which have helped them identify potential armed groups and criminal organizations in the area.

The NTF DPAGs meeting also covered updates on the security component of the Normalization Program, operational updates in Western and Eastern Mindanao, as well crime prevention tactics of the body.

The 11th Oversight Committee Meeting was attended by its member agencies, which included Department of Interior and Local Government, Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of National Defense, Department of Justice, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, and the GPH Implementing Panel Chair for MILF Peace Accord. ###