Philippine gov't creates group to disband private armies


As peace process continues, unit to focus on disbanding armed groups in Bangsamoro core territories and in some other areas

By Roy Ramos

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The Philippines government has created a group tasked to disband “private armies” in the country’s Muslim south, where it has signed a peace agreement with the region’s one time largest Muslim rebel organization, the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF).

Paquito Ochoa Jr., President Benigno Aquino III’s executive secretary, said in a statement Wednesday that the group — named National Task Force for the Disbandment of the Private Armed Groups — has been formed through a memorandum issued by the Office of the President. 

The statement said that the disbandment of private armed groups, together with the gradual phasing out and decommissioning of the MILF’s weapons and combatants, are part of the bigger normalization process under the peace agreement.

“There is a need for the creation of the national task force that would focus on disbanding the Private Army Groups (PAGs) in the proposed Bangsamoro core territory and adjacent regions in order to stabilize the security situation,” it said.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace accord signed by the government with the MILF in 2014, provides for a comprehensive approach toward achieving security and peace in the proposed autonomous region. 

The normalization process has not been included in the original draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the legal iteration of the said agreement, due to it being part of the mandate of the executive branch (the presidential office) — meaning the normalization process does not require additional legislation.

Moreover, a provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution already mandates the dismantling of private armies and other armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authorities of the country.

The memorandum also stressed the urgency to disband such private groups in Bangsamoro as “the major causes which primarily contribute to its proliferation such as very low level of human security, gun culture, ‘rido’ or clan war, political dynasties and the use of military and police auxiliaries still exist in some affected communities.”

Both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are heavily represented in the task force, while the chair of the Government of the Philippines Negotiating Panel for Talks with the MILF, currently held by Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, will also sit as member.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process will help develop a monitoring and reporting system to “determine the development and level of achievements of the activities designed for the dismantling of the PAGs”.

Ochoa stressed the need for a unit that would focus on disbanding the armed groups in the Bangsamoro core territories and in some other areas.

The Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao — whose members were blamed for the massacre in 2009 of 58 people, including 34 journalists — is among the most prominent group that maintains private armies.

In areas of the deep south — such as the Abu Sayyaf frequented areas of Sulu and Basilan — such armed groups are common among political warlords.

Last June, the MILF turned over dozens of weapons as part of the decommissioning process.