New Army 6th ID commander to have back-channel talks with MILF
John Unson (Philstar.com) - September 18, 2016 - 10:40am
MAGUINDANAO — Central Mindanao’s top Army official will personally meet this week senior Moro commanders for a dialogue, something first in the history of the southern peace process.
 
Major Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., the new commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6th ID), said coordination and other legworks are now being initiated, according to communication protocols agreed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for the meeting to push through.
 
The back-channel initiative of Galvez is known to Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team.
 
Galvez declined to reveal, in the meantime, the venue of the planned meeting for security reasons.
 
“Efforts are now underway for the meeting to happen,” he said.
 
Galvez, while a colonel, served as chairman of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, which deals with a counterpart in the MILF.
 
He hinted that the meeting is part of the 6th ID’s confidence-building measures meant to sustain what is for him a “fragile but sustainable peace” in once hostile areas in central Mindanao.
 
The region is covered by the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.
 
Galvez said the peace dialogue this week is being coordinated with Al-Mansur Gambar, chief of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.
 
Sources from the 6th ID said among the possible topics to be discussed in the meeting is how the division and MILF commanders can cooperate in supporting the anti-narcotics campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte.
 
Galvez said there is a need for more “backdoor engagements” between the 6th ID and MILF field commanders to ensure the continuity of the cordial enforcement by both sides of the ceasefire accord crafted by government and rebel negotiators in Cagayan de Oro in 1997.
 
There has not been any single Army-MILF encounter in 6th ID’s area since 2010. The government-MILF interim ceasefire pact also enjoins both sides to mutually cooperate in addressing domestic peace and security issues and in interdicting criminal gangs and terrorists in areas where there are guerilla forces.
 
The 6th ID covers Maguindanao and parts of Lanao del Sur, both component areas of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and the adjoining provinces of North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat under Administrative Region 12.
 
These four provinces are bastions of the MILF, where it has about 40 government-recognized camps, now dubbed “peace zones,” where Malacañang, foreign benefactors and the office of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman are implementing socio-economic and infrastructure projects designed to address poverty and underdevelopment in local communities.
 
Galvez assumed as 6th ID commander only last Sept. 12. His predecessor, Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, now vice commander of the Philippine Army, also engaged in various peace-building programs while 6th ID commander.
 
The first ever 6th ID commander to engage with the MILF was the now retired Major Gen. Rey Ardo, via  a visit to the group’s figurehead, Al-Haj Murad, in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao in 2013.
 
The planned meeting between Galvez and senior Moro commanders this week is the first ever since the government-MILF peace overture began on January 7, 1997.

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