Duterte to Army: “take full control” of the Bagani

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 September) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “take full control” of the Bagani paramilitary units so as not to undermine the peace process with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“I have noticed from many reports that the government-backed paramilitary units are still operating. I am now ordering the Army to take full control itong mga Bagani command and the… there is another group, I forgot the name. So many… paramilitary men operating especially with firearms issued by the government that would undermine the peace process and of course, it would be also a crime if you do that,” Duterte told reporters after speaking with police personnel at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Alagar, Cagayan de Oro City on Friday afternoon.

He cited a killing of a couple in Kitaotao, Bukidnon, in Surigao, Arakan in North Cotabato, allegedly by paramilitary forces.

“Mahinto na sana ito” (May this be stopped) because we are really trying our best to come up with a… peaceful country,” Duterte said.

Duterte did not elaborate on what “take full control” of the paramilitary forces means – did he mean completely disband these groups or disarm them for the duration of the ceasefire? There was no follow-up question, also, based on the transcript of the media briefing that the Presidential Communications Office released.

Both the government and the NDF  peace panels have declared, separately, a unilateral ceasefire that both have agreed to continue indefinitely as their ceasefire committees “reconcile and develop their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified bilateral agreement within 60 days” from August 26.

The proposed bilateral ceasefire is a major breakthrough in the three decades of peace negotiations across six Presidential administrations — Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Simeon Aquino and the incumbent, President Duterte.

The last bilateral ceasefire was signed in November 1986, to cover a 60-day period starting December 10, 1986 but was not renewed following alleged violations by the military, as well as the massacre of protesting farmers in Mendiola in January 1987.

Various groups, including the Church had earlier called for the disbandment of paramilitary forces in the country. The military on the other hand had also repeatedly called for the disbandment of armed groups, particularly Lumads or Indigenous Peoples, that it claims the New Peope’s Army organized.

In early October last year, the two-day Senate probe on Lumad killings held in Tandag City ended with Mindanawon senators Teofisto Guingona III and Aquilino Pimentel III echoing the call of Lumads, church and local government leaders to arrest, disarm and disband the “Magahat-Bagani” paramilitary group that had been repeatedly accused of sowing terror in several towns in Surigao del Sur and whose disbandment had also been repeatedly sought.

Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar, however, said he was still waiting for answers to critical questions about the “apparent unholy alliance between the military and the paramilitary which the military vehemently denies.”

In his speech before police personnel, Duterte said he was flying back to Davao City to have dinner with NDF peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni. (MindaNews)