Mindanao a show window of peace and dev’t ? Galvez
Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. raised serious concerns over a tweet of a freelance journalist which has cast Mindanao in a bad light and disregarded multi-sector efforts to secure peace in the area.
Galvez was reacting to a tweet posted by Raissa Robles on June 2 wherein she criticized incoming Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco’s plan of opening up the island-region’s tourism industry despite the alleged threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
“We are not quite sure about Ms. Robles’ intentions but she is instilling fear among local and foreign travelers who wish to visit Mindanao. By doing so, she is creating a negative image of the place in the public’s eye which I find worrisome,” he said.
Galvez said that Robles’ views are unfair to current and previous administrations, local government units and the security sector which have for years been working very hard to put a stop to lawless elements and improve the overall peace and order situation in the area.
“Ms. Robles claims that she has been covering terrorism in Mindanao for the longest time. If this is the case, then she must know that the attacks perpetrated by terror groups have significantly gone down during the term of President Duterte,” he said.
Galvez attributed this downtrend in violent incidents to the heightened presence of military forces in the Sulu Archipelago, particularly through the military brigades and battalions that have been strategically deployed in the island-provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
“As the former commander of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), we focused on addressing the threat posed by the ASG and other terror groups by making our presence felt and working closely with LGUs to ensure peace and security in their areas,” he said.
"The numbers of the ASG are dwindling. Hundreds have already surrendered and are now living peacefully with their families. They no longer have the influence over the communities particularly in Basilan and Tawi-tawi,”he said.
Galvez said it was during his stint with the military where he saw firsthand the determination of LGUs to rid their communities of lawless elements, address the roots of armed violence, and bring genuine peace and sustainable development in their localities.
“Having previously worked closely with local chief executives and other community leaders for many years, I could really sense their commitment and desire to present their areas in a better, more positive light. There was even a catchphrase: from terrorism to tourism,” he said.
Galvez said Robles is trying to conjure images of the “wild, wild west” in describing Mindanao when in reality, the island-region is now emerging as a leading eco-tourism, trading and commercial hub.
“This is an anachronistic way of picturing Mindanao. It is a throwback to the Mindanao of old when armed encounters used to be a regular occurrence. This is the image of Mindanao which we would like to put behind because genuine peace is now upon us,” he said.
Galvez noted that the dividends of peace are now being felt across Mindanao, particularly in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which is the second fastest growing region in the country in terms of economic growth.
"The BARMM’s economy grew by 7.5 percent in 2021, which is remarkable considering that we were still in the midst of a pandemic. This is not only a testament of the region’s vast economic potential, but also an indication of stable peace and order conditions,” Galvez said.
“The region has now become a show window of peace and development. It has certainly come a long way since the days when investors shied away from the area because they were unsure of their safety. This is now a thing of the past,” he added.
Galvez said the concerted efforts of LGUs in Mindanao, particularly those in the Tawi-Tawi, to highlight the vast eco-tourism potential of their areas have started to pay dividends.
“The Sulu Archipelago, Basilan and Tawi-tawi boast of pristine beaches, mangrove forests, and majestic sandbars which are of world-class quality. These areas also take pride in its historical attractions. In Tawi-Tawi, you have the Sheikh Makhdum Mosque built in 1380 which is a testament of the area’s rich cultural heritage,” he said.
Galvez said economic activities have started to increase in the BARMM. One of which is the opening of the direct route of Philippine Airlines from Cotabato City to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. The maiden flight is scheduled to be on June 9. It is the first flight within BARMM.
Galvez also attributes this amazing turnaround to the major gains achieved under the Bangsamoro peace process, particularly in the successful implementation of Bangsamoro peace agreements.
“Under the Duterte Administration and previous administrations, the foundations of peace have been laid in Mindanao wherein sustainable development can take root. This is the legacy of peace we would like to leave behind and hopefully, be sustained by the incoming administration,” he added.
Galvez said he is disheartened when sweeping generalizations are made against Mindanao in order to establish a narrative that peace and security conditions in the island-region remain volatile.
“We know that it is a cardinal rule among journalists to be fair, factual and accurate in their reportage. It is therefore disappointing when a member of the press who professes to uphold these very same principles take the opposite path,” Galvez said.
“I therefore invite Ms. Robles to visit Mindanao and see for herself the real peace and security situation in the island-region. The visit will provide her with realities on the ground. After her visit, who knows, she may have a change in heart,” he said. OPAPRU Communications and Public Affairs Services