Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur (07 October 2022) — Around 160 former rebels now called “Friends Rescued” converged here in this coastal municipality for the first-ever provincial-level Transformation Program (TP) Planning that culminated in a “Regional Friends Rescued Summit.”

The summit, held from October 3 to 7, was spearheaded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Peace, Reconciliation and Unity’s (OPAPRU) Local Peace Engagements Office in partnership with various local peace partners.

“Our event today is both overwhelming and inspiring. Overwhelming because we are joined here by our brothers and sisters who have decided to lay down their arms and return to mainstream society,” Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., told the FRs gathered here.

“And inspiring because all of you have decided to take things to a higher level and become part of those F-R organizations,” he added.


Transformation Program for FRs

“The week-long activity allowed our participants to identify appropriate initiatives and interventions to address issues and concerns that confront the FRs as they transition and transform themselves into regular and productive citizens,” explained Director Jude Lauengco, of the OPAPRU-LPE Office.

During the weeklong Summit, 60 FR leaders from Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur participated in peace conversations, as they shared their experiences after turning away from armed struggle and started walking the path of peace.

They also raised pressing issues being confronted by former comrades who have yet to make the decision to return to the folds of the law, as well as lobbied for crucial services they need from the national government such as livelihood and education assistance.

Leading up to the FR Summit, the OPAPRU has been conducting a series of consultations particularly in the Zamboanga Peninsula to gather inputs for the Transformation Program it crafted for FRs.

The Transformation Program aims to help FRs successfully reintegrate themselves into mainstream society as peaceful and productive citizens.

For their part, national line agencies participated in planning sessions wherein they committed to ensure that their programs and projects meant for the FRs are efficiently implemented and readily accessed.

These agencies include the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Interior Local Government (DILG), Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health, Philippine Information Agency, National Intelligence Coordination Agency, Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

The security sector, on the other hand, was represented by the Philippine National Police Regional Office IX; The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 1st Infantry Tabak Division, 102nd Brigade; and the Philippine Army’s 53rd, 97th, 44th, and 10th Infantry Battalions based in Misamis Occidental.

Among the highlights of the FR Summit was the election of officers of the FR organization, which shall actively partner with the national government and take the lead in carrying out peacebuilding efforts in the region.

Gina Granada, a former member of a dismantled guerilla front operating in the region, was elected as interim president of the Regional FR Organization – ZamPen.

“Will serve as a bridge… as we (the FRs become) responsible and productive Filipinos of our country…Only if we will dream of a truly sovereign nation…if all of us will unite so that the Philippine Government from now on will continuously stand amidst all the challenges as follows,” Granada said.

She also cited the call of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr during his State of the Nation Address that FRs must work together in the name of unity, peace, and reconciliation for national recovery.

“The election of officers of the Friends Rescued Organization and the crafting of the Regional Action Plan are steps in the right direction in realizing the Transformation Program,” Galvez pointed out.

“It is our hope that the process of creating the group and the plan can be replicated by the other provinces, and thereby create a ripple effect that will be felt throughout the country,” the peace adviser added.