Zambo military and police adopt “peaceful and participative approach” in operations

Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command, revealed they are now gearing for a "people-oriented" strategy as part of the major reforms they are implementing in the command.

"We are strengthening our civil-military relation especially in the areas we are undergoing military operations," Allaga told the audience during the "Mindanao Peace Forum" held over the weekend at Grand Astoria Hotel here.

The forum is a run-up to the annual Mindanao Week of Peace which will be held on November 29 to December 5. This year's theme, adopted by the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) is "Building Bridges of Peace with our Peace Officers."

Allaga also presented the Wesmincom's three-point strategy under his leadership: "winning the peace; maintaining security environment conducive to development; and cooperative community and security engagement."

He said winning the peace would be attained through alliance-building with the concerned sectors.  Maintaining the security environment means concentrating on the development assistance and programs the soldiers are implementing especially in the areas affected by the armed conflict.

On cooperative community and sccurity engagement, Allaga said this is focused on peace-building efforts, including the military's support to the ongoing peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the strengthening of the "balik-baril" program, community dialogues and the reintegration and rehabilitation of rebel returnees and their livelihood programs.

Representatives from the police forces and the local government also presented their agency's programs and plans for peace and development for the region.

"We also believe that a people factor is the most important in the success of any of our efforts," declared Colonel Darwin Guerra of local anti-terror Task Force Zamboanga.

"We prefer to be called peace officers rather than security officers," Colonel Edwin Soledad, deputy police regional director said.

"Our main objective is the enforcement of law and order as imperative factors to peace and development," he added. "We are appealing for the support and cooperation of the public so we could successfully undertake this task," he said.

City Hall Executive Assistant Amilpasa Bandaying presented the local government thrusts for peace and development in the city. He explained the city's 17-point agenda, focusing on the basic social services such as education and health, agricultural modernization, infrastructure and poverty alleviations programs.

Father Angel Calvo, president of Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) and lead convenor of the Interreligious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRSMP), the forum's organizer, added that provision of the basic social services is more crucial than any other peace-building efforts.

"It is only through social justice as well as respect for the social norms and idiosyncrasies of a multi-ethnic population that could curb violence and lead us to peace," Fr. Calvo stated.

The dialogue, participated by some 70 individuals from different government agencies, academe, civil society groups and non-governmental organizations, also voiced out the need for military and police officers to be culturally and socially sensitive even in times of war.

"(Non-Muslims) soldiers should be fully aware and educated of the do's and don'ts in the Muslims' traditions and cultures. They should not do actions that are insulting to the Muslims or that could cause negative impressions towards the image of the soldiers because instead of solving the problem, we will be creating more conflicts," Muslim scholar Ustadz Mahdi Baginda, said.

The idea of culture of peace among the military and police rank and file is not really new in this part of the country as several non-government agencies had been facilitating the same programs in different military camps and brigades in Mindanao. Major General Raymundo Ferrer said they started adopting "culture of peace" approach back when he was still the commander of the local military brigade in the province of Basilan.

Ferrer cited the success of military engagement in island when they engaged the community in dialogues and assisted in the development. (Nung Aljani/MindaNews)