By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

SOUND OF PEACE. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (left) and Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. pose with the Peace Gong in Puerto Princesa City on Friday (Sept. 1, 2023) as Palawan Island is officially declared insurgency-free. The gong symbolizes the start of National Peace Consciousness Month. (PNA photo by Rey Baniquet)

MANILA – The country continued to make significant strides in attaining peace and order, with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. leading the declaration of Palawan Island as “insurgency-free” on Friday.

Patuloy pa rin ang proseso ng paghahanap ng kapayapaan para sa lahat ng komunidad ng Pilipinas (The process of finding peace for all communities in the Philippines is still ongoing),” he said in a media interview in Puerto Princesa City.

“Ngunit, maaari ring mag-celebrate tayo dahil nakita naman natin, may progreso naman, maganda naman ang sitwasyon (But we can also celebrate because we have seen there is progress and the situation is good),” he added.

Marcos attributed the successful implementation of the peace initiatives and anti-insurgency efforts to the government’s “whole-of-nation” approach.

He also lauded the “collaborative and inclusive” efforts of the Regional and Provincial Task Forces to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC), Provincial Peace and Order Council, partner agencies and Palawan residents to end insurgency on the island.

“The milestone that we celebrate today epitomizes the commitment that you have put to end the decades-long insurgency in the area through the provision of national reintegration programs for former rebels and promotion of the island’s peace and security,” Marcos said.

“And that is why it is gratifying to see because we have seen the success of this principle, of this concept, all around the country,” he added.

Marcos said the local government units’ (LGUs) participation is also a “big help” in convincing communist rebels to reintegrate into mainstream society.

He acknowledged that the peace process has improved because of the successful negotiations between LGUs and local insurgents.

Alam naman po natin ay mamumundok ang isang magiging rebelde dahil sa kanilang palagay hindi sila tinutulungan ng kanilang pamahalaan, hindi sila tinutulungan ng kanilang mga opisyal (We know that rebels go to the mountain because they think their government is not helping them, their officials are not helping them), they are neglected and have lost hope in a peaceful life, in a peaceful society, and that is why they resort to violence, and they resort to fighting in the different forms,” Marcos said.

“So, that is the first thing that we need to attend to. Kailangan maramdaman ng bawat Pilipino na nandito, hindi lamang ang pamahalaan, kung hindi pati na ang local communities, pati na ang local government, pati na ang mga pulis, pati na ang mga sundalo, pati na lahat ng bahagi ng ating lipunan ay nandiyan upang suportahan at pagandahin ang kanilang buhay (Every Filipino needs to feel that it is here, not only the government, but also the local communities, including the local government, the police, the soldiers, and all parts of our society to support and improve their lives).”

Marcos also led the banging of the Peace Gong, symbolizing the start of the National Peace Consciousness Month, assisted by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity.

The event theme “Kapayapaan, ng Bawat Mamamayan” (Peace for Each Citizen) highlights the shared vision of all Filipinos for a peaceful and prosperous country, as well as the collective responsibility to protect peace.

The declaration by the joint body states that all focused areas and Konsolidado, Kinokonsolida, Ekspansyon at Rekoberi in Palawan and the City have been cleared, as reported in the Clearing Validation Board Resolution Nos. 01 s-2020, 01 s-2021 and 01 s-2022 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In a press briefing at Malacañan Palace’s Premier Guest House on Thursday, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said the Marcos administration is focused on carrying out counter-insurgency initiatives aimed at pursuing “permanent peace and sustainable development” in areas that are now considered insurgency-free.

Año added that the government is seeking to reorient the armed forces’ focus on “external threats.”

National Task Force-ELCAC executive director Undersecretary Ernesto Torres noted that a total of 69 guerrilla fronts have already been dismantled in the past four years.

Torres said there are only 20 remaining guerrilla fronts, with one of them still “active” in Northern Samar, and the 19 others are considered “weakened.”

Six of the weakened guerrilla fronts come from Luzon, seven in the Visayas, and the remaining six in Mindanao. (PNA)