By Gen. Carlito Galvez
Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines .
THE Philippine President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has placed the AFP at the forefront of all security and law enforcement operations through the declaration and subsequent extension of Martial Law in Mindanao. The wisdom of his decision is rooted on both his experience as a local chief executive and as a witness to the conflict that has ripped countless families apart and has derailed countless development programs for the people.
The complexity of the security situation has been glaring at us for so many decades now – that no conventional military or police operations can ever seem to work. That a firm resolve in the application of authority and law is needed to prevent groups from sowing fear, to keep communities peaceful and secured, and to let the people of Mindanao flourish to their full potential.
The intention for the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao was immediately and evidently clear – end lawlessness and pave the way for a more peaceful, secure, and progressive Mindanao. There were doubts and oppositions from some groups on the AFP’S operational capability and moral faculty to get the job done. And in the months that we have been implementing martial law, we can say that we have proven them wrong. We have erased the stigma and in return earned the trust and respect of the people of Mindanao.
Martial Law has enhanced our conduct of internal peace and security operations in Mindanao, particularly as deterrence to violence and criminalities. With the cooperation of the local government units, an unprecedented number of loose firearms have been confiscated or surrendered to the government. A total of 3,187 high-powered firearms and 2,325 low-powered firearms have been confiscated for voluntarily surrendered by political entities and influential families; significantly reducing the risk of rido, political violence, and even street crimes.
Movements of known terrorist groups such as the New People’s Army, Maute Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Abu Sayyaf Group have also been constricted. More importantly, thousands of their members and supporters have been given the choice and an opportunity to experience a more peaceful, normal and productive way of life.
This year alone, over 10,000 NPA members and supporters have surrendered in Mindanao. They are joined by over 300 members of local terrorist groups, 174 of which are ASG, who chose to the path to reformation and reintegration. By next year, as the trend is sustained, we can make these peace spoilers irrelevant, again with the help of the LGU and other stakeholders in Mindanao.
Mindanao is also home to the lumads who have their own customs and leaders. For many years they have felt neglected and in turn were exploited by the NPAs, who have intruded the IP’s ancestral domains and fooled their sons and daughters to join their so-called revolution . With martial law in effect, the lumads felt safer and have begun to speak out against the NPA, their true oppressors. These lumads have braved Metro Manila not to condemn the government, but to ask for the President’s help against the NPA.
The improved peace and security situation also brought new opportunities for business and tourism growth, particularly in provinces previously thought of as inaccessible and dangerous. Tourists now frequent Tawi-tawi, Sulu, and Basilan. They revel in the pristine islands, immerse in the rich cultures, and break stereotypes – activities that would not have been possible before the declaration of martial law. Business owners now feel safer and the developments created more jobs and empowered residents to become active players in the peace and security of their communities.
In this regard, the AFP wishes to express its sincerest gratitude to the media in Mindanao for their role in communicating the thrusts of the government and for their vigilance in keeping our soldiers in check. Your fair and honest reporting have kept us focused on our jobs with high standards of professionalism and responsibility.
We appeal that you continue your performance as catalysts for informed public discussions and decisions.. The people of Mindanao rely on you for information on the political, economic, and security matters that govern and affect their lives.
Rest assured that Martial Law will work to defend our democratic institutions, including the Constitutional guarantees for press freedom and right to information and free expression. The media and the military share the same vision of a peaceful and progressive Mindanao.
Whatever the answer of the President will be on the question of Martial Law’s extension, the AFP remains committed to Mindanao’s struggle for lasting peace and development. Our soldiers know that a lot is at stake as we move forward to the realization of a peaceful and progressive Mindanao.. The trust and confidence vested on the AFP by the people and our Commander-in-Chief are great motivators but also a stern remider.
For this, the AFP vows to continue to adhere to the Rule of Law and to act with compassion in the performance of our duty. We will establish enduring partnerships with our stakeholders, particularly the media in Mindanao, to help us and guide us in our operations. We will remain transparent and open to any oversight as these will also help us correct any mistakes. After all, the success of Martial Law in Mindanao is also the success of its people.
Despite these developments, we are aware that our job is far from over. We must capitalize on these gains moving forward. The year 2018 has been very productive and beneficial for the people of Mindanao. We thank the Mindanawons for their trust and confidence on our soldiers, who to this day continue to risk their life in search for just and lasting peace in the Land of Promise.
In the coming years, we aspire to bring you closer to the peace that you have always dreamt of. But we still need your help, your support, and your trust. We are all witnesses to the changes ushered in by Martial Law and we know we can do more. Let us continue to make our visions a reality.
(This was the message of Gen. Carlito Galvez, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to the Mindanao Media Forum on Peace, Martial Law and Marawi Rehab 11`on 16 November 2018 in Davao City. The message was read for him during Sesssion 2 on Martial Law, by Maj. Gen. Noel Clement, commander of the 10th Infantry Division.)