By Francis Wakefield
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said peace in Mindanao has never been closer than in the times that martial law is in place.
Galvez made the remark in a press briefing held at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Friday.
He said despite the opposition from some groups, they have been clear from the very beginning of their intentions of bringing peace, stability and prosperity to Mindanao and their actions so far have proven critics wrong.
“We have joined rounds of consultation with the primary stakeholders in the peace, security and development in Mindanao and we have received overwhelming positive feedback, not only on our efficient implementation of martial law, but also its impact to security, local economy and governance and well-being of local communities. While these are partial assessment, while we wait for an opportunity to visit other areas in Mindanao, we are happy about the significant favorable results we are getting so far,” Galvez said.
Galvez said martial law has led to increased tourist and economic activity in Mindanao, especially in areas previously thought of as inaccessible to visitors from Luzon and Visayas.
He said the improved security situation is so inviting that it is no longer unusual to find tourists exploring Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Davao, Zamboanga City, or island hopping in Jolo, Sulu.
“The development also created more jobs and empowered residents to become active players in the peace and security of their communities,” Galvez said.
The chief of staff said that with the help of LGU, an unprecedented number of loose firearms have been confiscated or surrendered to the government..He said a total of 5,685 loose firearms were surrendered in Mindanao.
Movements of known terrorist groups such as the New People’s Army, Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group have also been constricted.
Galvez said that in Eastern Mindanao alone, 11,333 CPP-NPA members and supporters have been given an opportunity to experience a more peaceful and productive way of life. They are joined by over 300 members of local terrorist groups, 572 of which are ASG, who chose to abandon their illegal activities in exchange for reformation and reintegration.
“By next year, as the trend is sustained, we can make these terrorists irrelevant,” Galvez said.
Galvez said governance features quality enhanced particularly in the conflict areas in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) wherein the number of recipients of the Seal of Good Governance had increased from six in 2016 to 20 for 2017 and 23 for 2018. This is despite the more stringent criteria which have increased from four to seven lines of efforts.
The economic performance of the ARMM also increased from 4.3 to 7.3 GDP. In particular, Zamboanga which ranked 102nd in 2017 in terms of economic standing jumped to the rank of 41 in 2018.
“Despite these developments, we are aware that our job is far from over. We must capitalize on these gains moving forward. The year 2018 has been very productive and beneficial for the people of Mindanao. We thank Mindanawons for their trust and confidence on our soldiers, who to this day continue to risk their life in search for just and lasting peace in the Land of Promise,” Galvez said.
“By next year, we aspire to bring you closer to the peace that you have always dreamt of. But we still need your help, your support, and your trust. We are all witnesses to the changes ushered in by martial law and we know we can do more. Let us continue to make our visions a reality,” he added.
More left to be done
Galvez said despite the gains they have achieved, more remains to be done to sustain the gains in terms of economy, governance, security and well-being of local communities as expressed by the local government executives who attest to the benefits of martial law.
“It’s imprudent to stop at this time. A lot more is left to be done in order to: quell the ongoing rebellion of communist terrorist group and the remnants of Dawlah Islamiya affiliates that continue to operate in Mindanao.
Galvez cited as an example the burning of a daycare center by New People’s Army (NPA) terrorists in Magpet, North Cotabato,
“If the incident related to the attack on a Day Care Center and burning of four tractors used by our farmers and laborers is any indication, this group has degenerated into an armed lawless band that would no longer distinguish what they should attack and what they should not – this morning, children’s day care center and economic tools that uplift the lives of our people. Then we have a big problem. Hence, we cannot stop, we cannot afford to,” Galvez said.
Army 19th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Ehrlich Noel Paraso, said about 25 Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs) attacked the daycare center located at Purok 6, Barangay Mahongcog in Magpet on Monday.
He said the perpetrators tied the hands of the teacher and seized the identification card, which they also burned.
Paraso said the CNTs reportedly put the school on fire because they allegedly failed to extort P50,000 from the barangay officials.
Authorities are investigating the incident.