(File photo courtesy of 57IB)

MANILA – The National Task Force on the Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (NTF-DPAGs) said Monday it will intensify its operations following the dismantling of 15 groups so far operating in Mindanao, especially in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The 15 PAGs were composed of 94 members and yielded 86 firearms, while Task Force Western Mindanao told the NTF-DPAGs there are “no active or potential PAGs” in the Northern Mindanao and Davao regions, although 14 criminal gangs still exist.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Presidential Peace Adviser, said peacekeeping efforts of the NTF-DPAGs continue to gain momentum with increasing community engagement and task force visibility within BARMM, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, Zamboanga Peninsula, and Soccsksargen.

"Let us work together in tearing down the walls of divisiveness, bitterness, and animosity of partisan politics as we move towards national healing and reconciliation,” Galvez said in a statement.

PAG is defined as “an organized group of two or more persons, with legally or illegally possessed firearms, utilized for purposes of sowing fear and intimidation, and violence for the advancement and protection of vested political and economic interest”.

“The NTF-DPAGs Oversight Committee has approved the joint operational guidelines for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National (PNP), which will serve as the “bedrock for the future campaign” of the national government against PAGs,”  the NTF-DPAG said statement on Monday.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity said the operational guidelines prescribe policies, guidelines, and procedures must be observed by the AFP and PNP in neutralizing PAGs in the countryside.

The task force also prepared a transition plan to ensure the continuity of the operations by the next administration.

Among the documents to be transferred to the incoming administration are revised monitoring and evaluation tool which validates the operations of the NTF against PAGs; a flow chart indicating the NTF-DPAGs operations and functions; and an orientation module that will outline the mandate and streamline activities of the NTF, ensuring peace and security within involved localities.

The task force also vowed to continue the awareness campaign and capacitate local government units in dismantling PAGs.

“A substantial number of private armed groups and profiled surrenderers have been profiled and are soon to receive social-economic packages once available since the NTF-DPAGs was reactivated two years ago,” Defense Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs Angelito De Leon, said in a statement.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año described the task force’s operating guidelines as the “most well-thought-out and most proper operational guidelines that can be used by other task forces”.

He lauded the NTF-DPAGs’ steadfast commitment to bring lasting peace not only in the BARMM but throughout the country, especially during the May 9 elections.

"From day one of the campaign period, up to the last day of canvassing of votes, no major untoward incidents were recorded because of our vigilance and preparations. If there were some, those were only minor and isolated incidents that the military and police force were able to swiftly address," Año said in a previous statement.

Año hopes the incoming administration will “focus on the long-term goals and capitalize on the gains of peace” achieved during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Let us strengthen and speed up our programs that not only redeem and embrace back our brothers and sisters into the fold but also prevent them from taking up arms and bringing their grievances against the law,” he said. (PNA)