ISABELA CITY, BASILAN (5 OCTOBER 2023) – The Assistance for Security, Peace, Integration and Recovery for Advancing Human Security in BARMM (ASPIRE), a program that helps address loose firearms in the Bangsamoro region, was launched in Basilan last October 5, Thursday.

“This initiative began when we were looking for ways on how to decisively address the issue of loose firearms,” Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Sec. Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said. “This led the Joint Normalization Committee (JNC), which is among the peace mechanisms implementing the Normalization Program under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, to develop a Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Management Program that will cover the provinces of Basilan, Maguindanao del Norte, Maguindanao del Sur, and the special geographical area of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

“We in OPAPRU believe that in the near future, guns and other weapons will be kept by residents because it will be shameful to bring them around. moreover, there will no longer be a need for them, especially in communities where where peace, security and development reign,” he said.

To complement the SALW efforts of OPAPRU, the government of Japan funded and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) implemented the ASPIRE program. This initiative encourages the registration and stenciling of loose firearms in the identified areas.

“ASPIRE stands as a significant stride toward empowering Basilan and sets the stage to serve as a replicable model for other areas within the region. It signifies a strategic advancement in our ongoing quest for a peaceful Bangsamoro,” BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said. “We acknowledge that the program’s effectiveness will not only bolster security but also contribute to the broader objectives of disarmament and transition.”

“On behalf of the people of Basilan, we would like to thank the national government, the different departments, the Embassy of the Government of Japan, the UNDP, and the stakeholders from other sectors,” Basilan Gov. Hajiman Saliman Hataman said. “Alam ko maraming mangyayari at marami pa rin tayong pagdadaanan but then, yung success na ginawa natin dito sa Basilan, kakaiba siya.”

“Hopefully kung ano yung development na naramdaman ng taga Basilan at yung saya at kung ano yung naappreciate ng national government at ng taga labas sa Basilan, magkakaroon ng qualifying effect at magkaroon siya ng sustainable impact sa next phase ng development,” Gov. Hataman expressed.

ASPIRE strives to not only reduce the weapons-related violence in the areas but also provide socio-economic support for individuals, families, and entire communities. This is in support of the Bangsamoro Normalization Process between the government and the former rebels.

In a video message, Ambassador Koshikawa expressed his appreciation for the strong commitment and support of the Joint Normalization Committee – Government of the Philippines (JNC – GPH), Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU), Joint Normalization Committee – Moro Islam Liberation Front (JNC – MILF), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), in Basilan, as well as the UNDP for its persistent efforts in facilitating step by step the discussions among stakeholders.

Recognizing Mindanao’s importance to the peace and stability not just in the Philippines, but in the entire region, Ambassador Koshikawa stated that “the opening of pilot sites under ASPIRE is one more decisive step towards the goal of decommissioning and normalization.”

Dr. Srinivas Kumar, Team Lead-Peace and Stabilization Programme, UNDP Philippines, said the ASPIRE program is one of the several programs the UNDP has in support to the peace process in Mindanao.

“While this is just a pilot initiative, ASPIRE looks forward to setting a working and effective framework for SALW management given the realities in the region and hopefully, it will be able to establish a good practice for SALW not just in the BARMM but in the other parts of the country as well,” he said.

“With this project is the commitment of UNDP to continue its overall support to peacebuilding initiatives in the BARMM, maximizing its technical resources and expertise as well as its global experience in peacebuilding including SALW management,” he added.

National Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr., described the ASPIRE project as “proactive and innovative way of reducing the proliferation of illegal weapons in our society.”

He said this effort will strengthen internal security.

“Under the Marcos’ administration, internal security is as much a partner as external defense,” he said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos, Jr., for his part, lauded local government unit of Basilan for its strong leadership for improving the island province’s peace and order condition.

He said the local government of Basilan has just recently won the prestigious Galing Pook award, which is a testament of the province’s practice of good governance.

Special Assistant to the President Antonio Ernesto Lagdameo, Jr., said the Marcos administration will continue to support the initiatives that will bring down the level of armed violence in the country.
“In this country, we have seen the devastating impact of armed conflict and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. This threatens not just our security but also our social, economic, and political stability. However, true security goes beyond mere defense. It requires a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of conflicts, violence, and inequality,” he said.

The ASPIRE Program, which targets the registration and stenciling of loose firearms in the identified areas, is a good start in developing a sense of responsibility that will eventually promote individual and community development, Sec Lagdameo said.

“Through this initiative, we aim to address the root causes of armed conflict and the illicit circulation of small arms and light weapons in the region. We will work tirelessly to promote the rule of law, strengthen law enforcement agencies, and empower communities to actively participate in peacebuilding efforts, fostering social cohesion and dialogue,” he added.

Also present during the event were the leadership of the AFP Western Mindanao Command headed by LTGEN Steve Crespillo, MGEN Ignatius Patrimonio, BGEN Alvin Luzon, the Regional Director of PRO BARMM PBGEN Allan NOBLEZA and other members of the National and Bangsamoro Government, OPAPRU officials, and representatives from the GPH and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) mechanisms. ###