LEGAZPI CITY, ALBAY– Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. is confident that the Bicol region will be soon realizing its full economic potential after armed conflicts in the region have significantly gone down.

Galvez visited the city on Friday, September 15, to lead the opening of the second leg of the KaPEACEtahan Peace Fair spearheaded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) here at the Bicol University.

The peace fair is among the peace-themed activities being held in line with this year’s National Peace Consciousness Month Celebration with the theme “Kapayapaan: Responsibilidad ng Bawat Mamamayan.”


Rebel forces significantly weakened

In his message during the fair’s opening, MGen. Adonis Bajao of the 9th infantry Division reported that incidents of armed conflict in the region had substantially decreased after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) successfully dismantled seven guerilla fronts in the region, leaving only one weakened guerilla front as of this writing.

“If we rate the conflict in the region, it is already going down, it is decreasing given that from thousands of active rebels in 2019, we are now down to more or less 300 active rebels in the region,” Bajao said.

He added that the major decrease in the number of communist insurgents indicates that the government is gaining major headway in putting an end to the decades-long insurgency

Bajao also noted that key government infrastructure projects in the region, particularly in Masbate province, which were provided under the PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) Program are already nearing completion.

He noted that once these road projects are turned over, peace, progress and development will take root in the conflict-affected and hard-to-reach communities.

Among the PAMANA projects that Bajao mentioned included the Brgy. Ki-Buaya, Brgy. Quintina, and Brgy. San Jose, all in San Pascual, Masbate (100% accomplished); one (1) road concreting project in Brgy. Recodo to Guiom, Cawayan, Masbate (100% accomplished); one (1) road concreting project in Brgy. Mabini, San Pascal, Masbate (60% accomplished); one (1) road concreting project in Bry. San Rafael of San Pascual, Masbate (50% accomplished); and one (1) road concreting project in Brgy. Mapanique of San Pascual, Masbate (70% accomplished).

The PAMANA Program was launched in 2011 as a priority program of the national government that supports the peace negotiation track and contributes to the goal of attaining just and lasting peace.

Polangui town Mayor Adrian Salceda, who represented Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda, said that in the past years, members of the New People’s Army (NPA) would burn down government equipment being used to build roads and other infrastructure facilities, and consequently, delaying their completion.

“Some of you will remember that there was a time when insurgents would burn equipment near or at the site of what is now the Bicol International Airport. These incidents were not very long ago,” Salceda said.

“But you come to the airport area now, and you can’t imagine how this area used to be near conflict zones. The place is booming with new economic activity, within what we call the Guinobatan-Camalig-Daraga-Legazpi (GUICADALE) Economic Township,” he added.

He added that through an aggressive social development platform; producing a college graduate in every family; fast tracking the implementation of social development initiatives; and making disaster risk reduction a focal point of governance, the government will be able to address the root causes of conflict.


Sustaining peace gains through peace education

In order to sustain the gains of peace in the region, the OPAPRU also committed to fortify peace education through strengthening the current peace curriculum and programs in the university.

Galvez during his visit, also met with the Dr. Baby Boy Benjamin Nebres, Bicol University President, Atty. Alex Nepomuceno, Dean for BU-College of Social Science and Philosophy as well as peace and social science educators and students to explore areas for the development of peace education in the university.

“I am truly happy and grateful that this Peace Fair Programme that intends to enlighten us on the ways of peace and promote a culture of reconciliation and unity – as hallmarks for Peace – is finally here in Bicol University,” Nebres said.

The OPAPRU has been working closely with various education institutions across the country such as the Mindanao State University system and Ateneo De Davao University to push forward the national government’s peace education agenda.

Last February 2023, the US Institute of Peace pledged to support the OPAPRU in mainstreaming peace education in the nation’s basic and higher education sectors and other learning institutions.

“I hope that this will be a sustained programme for Bicol University. Beyond the ceremonies and symbols, beyond these exhibits – I hope that we can work towards a more tangible programme towards peace-building plans that can capture the real essence of sustainable development and create a better, more humane and peaceful world for everyone,” Nebres added.


Pursuing peace: not a passive endeavor

According to PBGen. Westrimundo D. Obinque, Regional Director of the Philippine National Police in Bicol, achieving lasting peace involves resolving complex social issues, engaging in constructive dialogues, and strengthening peace and security in the area.

“In these times of change and progress, we renew our unwavering commitment to the government’s peace process and efforts. The pursuit of peace is not a passive endeavor. It requires active dedication, cooperation, and understanding from all stakeholders involved,” he said.

For his part, Galvez reaffirmed the OPAPRU’s support and commitment not just to help bring a just and lasting peace in the region, but also to usher development and progress in the area.

“The very essence of why we celebrate the National Peace Consciousness Month is to celebrate the peace milestones particularly here in the country. We brought the KaPEACEtahan Peace Fair in Bicol because we have seen that the armed conflicts here have significantly decreased, thus paving the way for fully achieving the economic potential of the region,” Galvez said.

“We strongly believe that the Bicol region is already enjoying the dividends of peace and we will sustain this. In fact, PHP 650 million has been appropriated for the PAMANA Program for infrastructure development in the Bicol region to be implemented by the OPAPRU in 2024,” he said. ###