Officials see better security in Mindanao with SouthCom split

"It would be better to reduce the area of the enemy into smaller ones," Sema said in a press conference with other mayors Tuesday after the activation of the Davao-based Eastern Mindanao Command.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who chairs the Regional Peace and Order Council in Southeastern Mindanao, said the new set up affords the military "more focus."

"The decentralization of the structure normally results in quicker, more efficient and responsive organization," Romeo Serra, Mindanao Business Council chair, said in a message to MindaNews Tuesday.

"Thus we expect them to be more effective in the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations," he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines carried out President Arroyo's order on Aug. 28 to split SouthCom into two, the Western Mindanao Command and the Eastern Mindanao Command.

AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon Jr. announced that the Eastern Mindanao Command, activated on Aug. 29, will focus on crushing the communist insurgency and the Western Mindanao Command on counter-terrorism to secure Western Mindanao and nearby island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi from "terror groups."

The two commands will help uphold the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and nurture a peace agreement, Esperon said. "It would also be a catalyst for development activity to fast-track the vision of the national government's super regions," he said.

Esperon said he wants the EastMinCom to be a catalyst in the growth of Mindanao with an order to secure agricultural plantations that contribute to Mindanao's economy.

The EastMinCom will cover a total of 16 provinces and the cities of Davao, General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Cotabato, Kidapawan, Digos, Tagum, Butuan, Surigao, Valencia, Malaybalay, Gingoog, and Cagayan de Oro.

The Western Military Command, retaining SouthCom's base in Zamboanga City, will cover eight provinces.

The activation of the two new commands was taken to mean more readiness as Esperon cited military commanders' need to fly around Mindanao to visit troops before.

Duterte said the government must work for a peace agreement, but "it should also be very ready to fight. You cannot develop this country with this silly war.”

"The split is more advantageous for us," said Ibrahim Paglas, businessman and former mayor of the municipality of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao. "Business operations can go smoothly with better security," he added.

General Santos City Mayor Pedro Acharon said it will become easier for the military to operate now that it is decentralized.

Virgillio Leyretana, Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco) undersecretary, said the activation of the two commands will help the development of rural areas contained by insurgency problems.

Duterte, who was referred to by Esperon as a "great consultant" of the military, said the AFP could only be as strong as the people wanted it to be.

Esperon said EastMinCom and WestMinCom will help break the barriers to peace in Mindanao. But he said winning against insurgency and terrorism demands from the military winning the people's confidence.

The move, however, is not new, said Efren Elbanbuena, assistant director-general for Mindanao of the Philippine Information Agency. It is just a re-adoption of the SouthCom and the Central Mindanao commands activated during the Marcos period.

Aside from the mayors who spoke to the media after the military rites, other personalities attended the activation of the EastMinCom at the old Davao City airport.

Seated with Esperon, Duterte, and EastMinCom chief Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana in the stage were Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla and New Government Centers Undersecretary Rodolfo del Rosario. Pastor Apollo Quiboloy also joined mayors and other government officials. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)