Spoilers of peace
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2019 - 12:00am

“As we all know, achieving enduring, genuine peace takes time – lots of it. And this process doesn’t end with the signing of agreements,” the OPAPP chief pointed out.

The recent killing of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emir, Abu Bakr Al Bagdhadi, by US Special Forces troops who raided his lair in Syria should have the effect of bringing down the level of terrorist threats from his extremist sympathizers across the globe, including those in the Philippines.

However, being able to penetrate porous borders in Mindanao, two of Bagdhadi’s jihadists reportedly from Egypt, with the aid of IS-influenced Abu Sayyaf extremists attempted another suicide bombing here in Southern Philippines. Last Tuesday afternoon, two alleged Egyptians and a suspected Abu Sayyaf member were gunned down during a firefight at an Army checkpoint in Indanan, Sulu. The slain father and son Egyptians have been allegedly training the Abu Sayyaf bandits on bomb making.

Military intelligence operatives under Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) detected their presence and plot to stage bombings. The suspects were reportedly about to conduct suicide bombing in downtown Jolo, apparently to avenge the recent killing of Bagdhadi when they were stopped at the Army checkpoint.

The continuing IS threats in southern Philippines, especially with their rabid followers from the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), remain the biggest spoilers of the Philippine government’s peace and development program in Mindanao. This was the candid admission of retired Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. who is now Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

It was Galvez who announced to us the successful thwarting of the latest suicide bombing attempt in Mindanao the next day when he joined us in the Kapihan sa Manila Bay. Galvez credits the peace agreements with Muslim secessionists groups in Mindanao, being implemented by the administration of President Duterte, as crucial in the government campaign to stem IS terrorism from taking root in the Philippines.

As OPAPP chief, Galvez administers the peace pacts of the government with both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Part of it is overseeing the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that gave birth to the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Currently, he mentioned, that the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have given training to former MILF and MNLF combatants who are being decommissioned under the peace pacts with the government. After training, they become part of the Joint Peace and Security Teams to be deployed in “hot spot” areas identified as lairs of IS-influenced BIFF and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.

Also undergoing training on “moral governance and financial integrity” are the officials and members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) who would administer the BARMM until elected officials come in. 

A retired four-star General of the military, Galvez finds himself leading now the peace initiatives of the government with his former enemies in the battlefields. In fact, he fought with these rebels as a young 2nd Lieutenant when he got deployed in the war zones after his graduation from the Philippine Military Academy in 1985.

Rising through the ranks, Galvez reached the apex of his military career as AFP Chief of Staff. He served though for only eight months from April 2018 up to December of the same year. He became the fourth AFP Chief of Staff in the past three years and a half in office of President Duterte at Malacañang.

President Duterte has so far had six Chiefs of Staff at the AFP. The current AFP Chief of Staff is another “mistah” of Galvez, Gen. Noel Clement who is due to retire in January 2020. Adopting the “revolving door” policy, President Duterte has appointed his past five Chiefs of Staff at the AFP even if they have less than one year left before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 years old.

By way of trivia, Galvez is the last AFP Chief of Staff who got appointed immediately right after retirement to another government position – a Cabinet post even. His successor, erstwhile AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. who retired last September has yet to be named to a civilian post in government.

Galvez has demonstrated though to the critics and detractors of President Duterte that retired military and police generals like him are best equipped with long years of experience on winning the war for the hearts and minds of people. More so of the former combatants and armed rebels now supporting and benefitting from the various government programs to achieve peace and development, most especially in the most troubled and poorest parts of the country.

Galvez likewise noted local peace engagements under the Duterte administration’s “Whole-of-Nation Approach” have been gaining traction as revolutionary groups under the umbrella of the Communist Party of Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) are giving up armed struggle and returning to the folds of the law to lead peaceful and productive lives.

“As we all know, achieving enduring, genuine peace takes time – lots of it. And this process doesn’t end with the signing of agreements,” the OPAPP chief pointed out.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Galvez disclosed the OPAPP is set to undergo a transformation to reflect the end goal of President Duterte to see enduring peace before the end of his term in June 2022. Galvez announced to us the transformation of OPAPP will start with a new name for this agency attached directly under the Office of the President. Galvez disclosed the OPAPP will soon be christened as the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity or OPAPRU.

Other than the change of name, Galvez acknowledges there are a lot more challenges and peace spoilers like IS terrorist threats that could derail the government’s genuine desire for all Filipinos to enjoy the fruits of just and lasting peace in every part of our country.

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