EastMinCom soldiers: from warriors to “soldiers of the people”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 August) – The military under the Eastern Mindanao Command will actively participate in the security sector reform, shed off its warrior image and “transform into conflict managers, peacebuilders and environmentalists,”  EastMinCom chief Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer said.

In his speech on the fourth anniversary of the Command today, Ferrer, known nationwide and in the international peace circles for his peace-building efforts in Mindanao’s conflict-affected areas, said soldiers should “reflect on all the best practices that we have come across and look beyond body counts or firearms recovered.”

He said his Command will “advocate inter-agency response to conflicts by continuous capacity building” and “help the agencies and organizations that have oversight over our units, with their respective mandates by directing our soldiers to cooperate with investigations and inquiries.”

Ferrer also vowed to “protect our friends in the media whose mandate is critical in ensuring that our AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) shall be transparent, professional and free of corruption.”
He said these are “not tall orders” and the military “will not embark on a paradigm shift.”

“We will only define what soldiers of the people are supposed to do. Peace, Development and Interagency collaboration shall be our focus. Professional soldiers shall be our weapon,” Ferrer said.

EastMinCom was activated on August 28, 2006 after the Zamboanga City-based Southern Command was divided into Eastern and Western Mindanao Commands.

The command has jurisdiction over the 4th, 6th and 10th Infantry Divisions, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, Philippine Air Force’s 3rd Tactical Operations Wing, and the 5th Civil Relations Group. It covers Regions 10 (Northern Mindanao), 11 (Southeastern Mindanao), 12 (Southwestern Mindanao, popularly known by its old name, Central Mindanao), Caraga (the two Agusans and Surigaos) and Maguindanao.

It also hosts the biggest brigade,  the 1001st Infantry Brigade

Ferrer noted the challenges during its third year – August 2009 to August 2010 — were “overwhelming.”

He cited how the command implemented martial law in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, following the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, by armed men reportedly led by the Ampatuan clan.

The other challenges were the “constant threat of the (renegade) MILF group and the seemingly deliberate attempts of the New People’s Army to disrupt the peaceful lives of our constituents.”

“We came out with flying colors,” he said.

The performance of EastMinCom soldiers during the elections in May was also cited. “Because of your professionalism,” he said, “ the last election may be the most credible one we have for as long as I can remember.”

Ferrer was two months as chief of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao during the 2007 mid-term elections. He was promoted to EastMinCom chief in late January 2009.

“As we look back on our gains, let us also look forward on how to preserve them. We shall not content ourselves that we have done so much. We shall do more,” Ferrer said.

Awards were given to several officers and enlisted personnel.

“Let us be inspired by the deeds exhibited by our awardees, reflect on all the best practices that we have come across and look beyond body counts or firearms recovered,” he said, as he reminded soldiers that “lasting peace is not just a gift to the people but also a reward for the hard work that you have done through the years.”

Ferrer was chief of the 1st Infantry Division based in Zamboanga del Sur in March 2007 when ordered to switch commands with Maj. Gen. Nehemias Pajarito, then 6th ID chief, who was replaced following his handling of the Midsayap clashes that nearly led to the collapse of the peace talks.

Before his appointment as 1st Infantry Division chief, Ferrer was commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade in Basilan. It was there where he began his peacebuilding work in partnership with non-government organizations like the Catholic Children’s Fund and Peace Advocates Zamboanga.

As 1st ID chief and later as 6th ID chief, he teamed up with the Cagayan de Oro-based Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. for peace-building trainings for his men. Hundreds of officers, enlisted and members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit – took the BMFI  Operation Peace Course (dubbed OPKORS!), an intensive seminar-workshop spanning four days. The sessions include a history of the conflict in Mindanao, the island’s diverse cultures, discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses, the soldier’s role in society, dialogue skills, conflict management, and even exercises to keep the body and mind fit. (MindaNews)