Thursday, February 23, 2012

Soldiers hope lasting peace in Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Battle-hardened soldiers in flashpoint areas in Central Mindanao were so overt in manifesting support to President Aquino’s peace overture with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The soldiers were optimistic that a final government-MILF truce would come sooner than the 2016 expiration of the president’s tenure.

As a complementing initiative,  four Army units in North Cotabato – the 7th, 40th, 57th and 68th  Infantry Battalions – already started training officers on efficient military-media cooperation to bolster the dissemination of their extensive non-tactical activities.

This is to support MalacaƱang’s confidence-building measures with Moro forces to prevent undue confrontations while the peace talks are underway.

The initial batch of soldiers that underwent the training last week were taught by volunteer journalists how to report their community projects based on the principles of “peace reporting”.

They were also taught how to highlight their press statements with dividends of the peace process particularly in the enforcement of the GPH-MILF ceasefire to generate public volunteerism in monitoring its implementation in far-flung areas.

Fragile peace

Col. Benjamin Hao, commanding officer of the 7th IB, said there were dramatic improvements lately in the security situation in areas under his battalion after they started addressing amicably domestic security problems through backdoor dialogues with leaders of guerilla forces, and other stakeholders.

Hao said the most senior Army officer in North Cotabato, Col. Cesar Sedillo of the 602nd Brigade, and the commander of the 6th Infantry Division, Major Gen. Rey Ardo, both have standing directives to embark on extensive confidence-building maneuvers aimed at addressing domestic security constraints and other humanitarian issues.

People in Central Mindanao felt the cordiality between the 7th IB and the Muslim communities guarded by its combatants when towns under the battalion’s jurisdiction were struck by flashfloods spawned by typhoons last year.

Soldiers and unarmed MILF fighters helped each other evacuate civilians away from their flood-stricken villages in a series of relief and rescue missions monitored by the joint ceasefire committee.

Hao and Lt. Cols. Roy Galido, Marcelino Teofilo, and Noel Dela Cruz, commanding officers of the 40th, 68th and 57th Battalions, respectively, agreed to launch their local military-media peace advocacy thrust, with the permission of Sedillo and Ardo, to hasten the dissemination of the successes of their units.

It will also note the performance of  government-MILF ceasefire committee, the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team and the Philippine National Police, in preserving the fragile peace now in Central Mindanao, based on protocols established jointly by rebel and government peace brokers.

Members of the 7th IB and MILF forces prevented last year three near encounters in the adjoining towns of Pikit, North Cotabato and Pagalungan and Montawal, both in Maguindanao by jointly resolving misunderstandings over control of territories and uncoordinated movements of government combatants and Moro guerillas.

Efficient communication link

“It is only by way of having open lines of communication and cooperation from leaders of local sectors, the police and the religious communities that we have resolved the problems. Very peaceful efforts, far from being bloody and antagonistic,” said Hao.

Galido and his subordinate-officers in the 40th IB managed to broker in recent months internal ceasefire accords between the feuding Moro families Matilac and Maraguiar; and Sugud and Musa in North Cotabato’s adjoining Pigcawayan and Midsayap towns, respectively.

The effort was with the help of local officials, Muslim clerics, and the GPH Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities.

The 40th IB, the MILF, the joint ceasefire committee, the IMT and the local government units of Midsayap and Banisilan, also in North Cotabato, have established a joint ceasefire monitoring post, or JCMP in the two towns to help prevent any outbreak of hostilities that could derail President Aquino’s peace overture with the MILF.

Galido and Hao, who both graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1990, are just as optimistic the government and MILF peace panels can achieve a major breakthrough soon in their effort to reach a negotiated settlement on the so-called Mindanao Moro problem.

Strictly no politics

Ardo, who was chairman of the GPH ceasefire committee before he assumed as 6th ID commander in early 2011, said there is overwhelming support for the peace talks by his division’s rank and file personnel.

“We have various activities complementing the GPH-MILF peace negotiations while awaiting, with hope and confidence, the now very perceivable fruit of the peace talks,” Ardo said.

There has been no major military-MILF encounter in the 6th ID’s area, where the MILF has dozens of big enclaves, since early 2010 and even when there were pockets of hostilities last year in parts of the Zamboanga peninsula and in Al-Barka, Basilan.

Ardo said his standing order for his men, meantime, is to avoid dipping their fingers into politics.
 “A soldier can never be an efficient peace broker if identified with a political camp. We must not forget that the Mindanao conflict is one that has political, socio-economic and racial ramifications,” Ardo said.
The Philippine Star
February 23, 2012 11:17 AM

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