President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday declared Palawan province insurgency-free as he directed concerned government agencies to follow through with the reintegration of former rebels, noting that steady support is needed for lasting peace.
The President also local authorities and stakeholders of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which now counts the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines as its latest member, for their part in peace efforts.
“This milestone that we celebrate today epitomizes your commitment to putting an end to the decades-long insurgency in the area through the provision of national reintegration programs for former rebels and promotion of the island’s peace and security,” he said in Puerto Princesa City, coinciding with the start of the National Peace Consciousness Month.
He encouraged the public to sustain peace in the region through the effective delivery of government services in geographically isolated and disadvantaged communities.
Mr. Marcos also expressed confidence in revitalizing tourism and investments in Palawan.
“That [insurgency] is the problem that we are slowly solving now, because unless you have a peaceful community unless you have security in the area, it’s hard to attract investment,” the President said.
“So now that we are able to wave that flag, we can say Palawan is free [from insurgency]. Palawan is already a very large part of all our plans for the transformation of the economy. Tourism plays a very, very large part in that. And Palawan plays a very, very large part in Philippine tourism,” he added.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, for his part, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines will focus on external defense after it has put an end to the local armed communist conflict.
“We can now reorient the focus of the Armed Forces toward external defense. Because right now, we have so many geopolitical issues and challenges so we need the Armed Forces to now focus [its] eyes on external defense,” he said.
NTF-ELCAC executive director Undersecretary Ernesto Torres noted that in 2019, the government was battling 89 guerilla fronts across the country.
Four years later, the government has been able to dismantle 69 guerilla fronts, he said.
“That means only 20 are left – with one active and 19 considered weakened guerilla fronts. The one active is in northern Samar. Those weakened are six in Luzon, seven in the Visayas, and another six in Mindanao,” Torres said.
“When we say weakened guerilla front, they [rebels] lost their mass base and most of their leaders,” he added.
The CBCP, represented by Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista and his alternate, Father Jerome Secillano from the Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs, on Friday also joined the NTF-ELCAC.