6th ID's Dela Vega to lead Western Mindanao Command

John Unson - Philstar.com
6th ID's Dela Vega to lead Western Mindanao Command
Gen. Arnel Dela Vega (right) and Lt. Col. Ricky Bunayog inspect firearms recovered from camps of Islamic State-inspired militant groups in Maguindanao.
John Unson

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — A peace advocate is set to take over the military Western Mindanao Command, which covers provinces beset with security issues that Malacañang is trying to resolve peacefully.

Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1985 and commands the Army's 6th Infantry Division, is popular in central Mindanao for his involvement in multi-sectoral programs complementing the government's peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

He was also imvolved in the surrenders in recent weeks of 15 members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. The BIFF operates in the fashion of the Islamic State and is scattered across central Mindanao’s adjoining Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato provinces.

Dela Vega will take over WestMinCom’s highest post from Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., whom the president designated last month as chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Galvez was also at the helm of 6th ID before he became WestMinCom commander in early 2017.

6th ID peace efforts

During their respective stints at 6th ID, Galvez and Dela Vega organized programs to generate public cooperation for the peace process and against religious extremists in the region.

Galvez, while 6th ID commander, visited leaders of the MILF in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and assured them of his full recognition of the group's peace agreement with the government.

Galvez also supported the efforts of the office of Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu in settling deadly feuds among powerful clans in Maguindanao province.

Dela Vega, while still a colonel and commander of the Army's 603rd Brigade of 6th ID, also succeeded in resolving, along with mayors of predominantly Iranun towns in Maguindanao, more than a dozen clan wars.

The feat resulted in the collection of loose firearms turned in after the feuds were ended.

A senior MILF commander who asked not to be named said Galvez as AFP chief and Dela Vega at the helm of WestMinCom "would be good for the peace process because they both have experiences in activities promoting Muslim-Christian solidarity and in nurturing the gains of the peace initiatives of the government and the MILF."

Bobby Benito, a directorate staff in the Regional Reconciliation and Unification Commission-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said both Galvez and Dela Vega exercise restrain in addressing domestic security concerns that can stifle the southern peace process if mishandled.

"What we need in Mindanao are peace advocates like them," Benito said.

Sources from the AFP said Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, will take over as 6th ID commander after Dela Vega.

Sobejana, a battle-hardened officer who has been awarded the Medal of Valor for gallantry in combat, also has extensive experience in peace-building activities while still colonel and commander of the 601st Brigade in Sultan Kudarat province.

Sobejana belongs to Class 1987 of the PMA.

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