CITY OF MATI, DAVAO ORIENTAL – Some 3,000 peace advocates, many of them are former rebels, have joined the historic march for peace here during a Mindanao-wide Peace Rally locally dubbed as Day of Unity, Peace and Progress.
Hoisting banners and placards bearing messages of peace, the swell of participants, led by former Communist New People’s Army Rebels, snaked through the main thoroughfares of the City of Mati on Tuesday, March 27, to campaign for peace, expressing their “hope to build peaceful communities” for their families and for the future generations.
The former rebels who have just completed their three-day Peace-Building Seminar led the huge “peace rally” ever in the province. They said the “peace rally” is a sign of their genuine submission to the rule of law as they called on their former comrades to surrender and put an end to the decades-old armed struggle.
Also joining the call for peace are former members of the Underground Mass Organizations of the Communist revolutionary movement who are now members of various People’s Organizations supporting the government. Also joining the peace rally are members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Local youth organizations led by the Youth for Peace Movement (YFP) and the military reservists also joined the peace rally.
Organizers from the Provincial Government and the Philippine Army in cooperation with other national line agencies and various peace and order stakeholders has described the historic Peace Rally here as the “first and largest” they have ever seen here. Simultaneously conducted in other parts of Mindanao that include Tagum City, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City, Koronadal (Marbel) City, Kidapawan City, and Butuan City, the rally clearly conveyed the message of the national government under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte to end the armed conflict as well as its bid to build a peaceful and progressive nation.
Following the rally, former rebels and former NPA mass supporters received a myriad of goods and services from the government through the flagship program of Governor Nelson Dayanghirang – the Nagkakaisang Lingkod Bayan ng Davao Oriental Barangay Outreach Caravan. Recipients have received free medical checkup and dental services, free medicines, food packs, and legal consultations, among many others.
A regular program which is being institutionalized by the governor, the caravan, which puts premium on social services to address deep-seated poverty and decades-old problem of insurgency by bringing basic services and development projects directly to the people, has already visited more than 50 villages across the province and targets 100 more for this year, especially in far-flung villages which are far from vital government and private resources.
Governor Dayanghirang, who makes peace and development as his priority program, said that achieving true and lasting peace is his long-time dream for the province, noting that as long as there is insurgency, development will be elusive.
While his predecessor Former Governor, now First District Representative Corazon Malanyaon, has already laid the foundations for development by placing Davao Oriental as an emerging tourism destination and a leader on agriculture, Governor Dayanghirang has also created new strategies in order to sustain and further boost the gains so far achieved.
Just recently, Governor Dayanghirang led the groundbreaking of a multi-billion-dollar Industrial Park which is set to be put up in the province by multi-national companies. The biggest investment by far in Mindanao and in the country in the recent years, the project is touted to transform Davao Oriental into a vibrant and thriving province wherein everybody would share the benefits of economic development and prosperity, thereby addressing poverty which is the main reason for insurgency.
Considering that peace and order is one of the biggest factors that investors consider before shelling out funds for investment, choosing Davao Oriental as the site for this big-ticket development project proves the investors’ confidence in the province’s security which is a clear result of Governor Dayanghirang’s effort for sustainable peace.
A CALL FOR PEACE
“The people have spoken. This is what they want and they want peace,” said Brigadier General Reuben Basiao, Commander of the Philippine Army’s 701st Brigade. He underscored the unprecedented flood of support from many sectors, including the former rebels who came a long way from their remote sitios in hinterland villages just to join the campaign on their own free will. He said that their mere participation indicates their genuine intent to drum up their sentiments against armed violence.
He lauded the former rebels’ efforts and told them that this is the opportune time to seize the “change” that the government is offering. He said armed violence is never the answer to conflicts but rather peaceful dialogues and embracing the solutions the government has to offer by working together for a common goal.
During the rally, former rebels openly testified on how the government had helped them rebuild their lives. A former NPA rebel said he never felt free and relieved until he surrendered. “There’s no need for me to run anymore. I never felt so peaceful and free. When my wife had convinced me to surrender, I was prepared for the worse. But instead, I was treated very well and even received so many benefits from the government. Surrendering is best decision I have ever made,” a former rebel said.
“Now we are no longer blinded by the warped view of the Communist ideology. Our eyes are now open to the truth of the government’s real intent for peace,” said another.
Other stakeholders have also expressed their messages of support to the government’s efforts in peace-building, saying that by working together for common goals, the nation can go a long way to progress. Photo by Eden Jhan Licayan