Kapag Tumibok

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Saturday, February 8, 2014


NO THIS is not about that song popularized by performer Donna Cruz in the late 1980s. It is about private armed groups (PAGs), particularly in the areas that will be covered by the Bangsamoro region.

The recently signed Normalization Annex of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) includes provisions on PAGs, specifically calling for the “disbandment of private armed groups using diverse and appropriate approaches or methodologies”.

Senate Bill 2620 filed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV during the 14th Congress, and HB 2111 put forward by Representatives Rufus Rodriguez and Maximo Rodriguez Jr. to the 15thCongress defined a PAG as “a group not recognized by duly constituted authority, consisting of at least three (3) individuals with weaponry, utilized in the same way as a private army”; that is, they are used to commit crimes, and advance and protect “vested political or economic interests of an individual, family, clan or private group in an oppressive way”. PAGs include “authorized government armed groups which no longer possess strategic or tactical value in the maintenance and administration of peace and order”, the “so-called lost commands, as well as paramilitary forces and private security forces”.

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The inclusion of State-initiated or supported groups in the definition points to the reality of a blurring of lines differentiating public and private when it comes to PAGs, and how one can easily morph or leak into the other.

The Independent Commission Against Private Armies (ICAPA) convened by the Arroyo administration in 2010 as one of the responses to the Maguindanao Massacre reported the existence of112 PAGs nationwide, majority of which were in Muslim areas in Mindanao.

Although PAGs are differentiated from non-state threat groups and criminal groups, their often illegally gained fire power connects these three.

A research undertaken by Ed Quitoriano, Shadow Economy or Shadow State?

The Illicit Gun Trade in Conflict-Affected Mindanao, as part of the 2013 publication “Out of the Shadows Violent Conflict and the Real Economy of Mindanao” of International Alert (IA)questions why the Philippine State allowed the proliferation of illicit firearms, an industry that challenges Government’s authority, and offers provocative insights.

The Quitoriano study cited Philippine National Police (PNP) data in 2009 reporting that non-state threat groups controlled 15,640 guns, and that another 4,980 were in the hands of criminal groups nationwide. About 33 percent of the guns possessed by threat groups, and 28 percent of those of criminal groups could be found in the ARMM.

Factoring in Central Mindanao data, the biggest concentration of firepower in Mindanao (nearly 50%) could be found in ARMM and Central Mindanao, which are at the core of the planned Bangsamoro territory.

Using government data for 2009 and 2010, the study pointed out that most of the illegal guns in ARMM and Central Mindanao were not in the control of threat and criminal groups. Specifically it was reported that there were 114,189 illicit guns in ARMM as of December 2010. Of these, 5,179 were said to be controlled by threat groups, and another 1,440 were with criminal groups; the remaining 107,570 (94 percent) could only be in the hands of PAGs.

And if these figures are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg, one could only imagine the real magnitude of illegal firearms proliferating in the areas that we are envisioning through the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace process to transition in the not-so far off future to a more stable, orderly and peaceful situation.

Filipinos are well aware of the consequences of the activities of PAGs, the most recent gory reminder being the 57 victims of the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009. But we can also look back to the narratives of how political and economic elites grabbed and maintained power during the colonial times and the period of the Philippine Republic. We have many examples in our historical accounts of private armies, whether wielding bolos or firearms, oppressing people to uphold the interests of a few.

When PAGs pulse with activities, kapag sila ay tumitibok in a manner of speaking, citizens are left with feelings of powerlessness and helplessness -- “wala ka nang magagawa”.

Quitoriano posited that the concern about illegal firearms in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao should not just be in relation to criminality. Although popular perception is that guns fuel criminal activities, a five-year study (2006 to 2010) showed that only “a minute proportion of gun-related crimes to total crime”.

The jury is obviously still out on this question. As reported by the initiative Konsult Mindanaw in 2009“People are very concerned with security. In expressing their vision of peace, they imagine the reduction of arms, guns and checkpoints.”

Quitoriano suggested that state-building could be another and possibly bigger casualty, pointing to the effects of firepower on governance and development. Studying two comparable municipalities, one in Northern Mindanao and the other in ARMM, the report said “government performance and democratic contestation has been a critical component in ensuring the legitimacy and authority” of the locality in Northern Mindanao where firearms did not abound. Meanwhile, “the cache of weapons in the hands of the dominant clan enables it to rule with impunity and consistently underperform… without worrying about its future control of the local government” referring to the situation in the ARMM municipality where the display of massive firepower is a ubiquitous part of daily life.

In other words, political and administrative performance of local authorities, and therefore consequent changes in the development situation of the people, could not be expected where leaders can fall back on supremacy through firearms.

Quitoriano concluded that illegal firearms proliferated due not only to
“institutional flaws and regulatory weaknesses of the State” but also because of “the economic benefits that state actors generate from a shadow economy that is masked or hidden underneath a general policy to decentralize or subcontract the means of coercion to local elites in conflict-affected areas such as Muslim Mindanao.”

We look to factors leading up to the Maguindanao Massacre as a case in point. Analysts have claimed that over the years different administrations of the Philippine government and the military tolerated and even supported the rise of the Ampatuans to power; first as a deterrent against the MILF, and later to consolidate power and guarantee support for a beleaguered national administration.

I hope these realizations will motivate Government, the MILF and other international, national level and local stakeholders to pursue the effective dismantling of PAGs in the Bangsamoro areas during the transition period, and well into the creation and functioning of the envisioned Bangsamoro new political entity.

It would be a big disservice to all those who sacrificed and supported the struggle for the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro if the proliferation of firearms in the region would only be simplistically explained away by the rationalization “firearms are part of the Moro culture”.

Even if that were the case now and in the immediate past, that need not automatically be the case for the future. Not if people realize that illegal firearms and PAGs would only perpetuate and perhaps even worsen what the FAB sought to address – that of the “unacceptable status quo”.

If there is a message that ought to resonate loudly among the PAGs in
ARMM and Central Mindanao, applying a line from that Donna Cruz song,it should be one that goes “lagot ka na, siguradong huli ka”.

Email feedback to magszmaglana@gmail.com.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 08, 2014.

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