SUMISIP, BASILAN — As a testament of his unwavering commitment to bring greater peace, security and stability to this once conflict-ridden island province, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Saturday, March 2, led the smelting of 550 surrendered firearms.

In his message, President Marcos remarked that Basilan was “a province that was once tainted by violence and terrorism is now a zone of peace,” which was “made possible not by military might alone but more so, by a people saying no to violence.”

“Peace is more than the cessation of hostilities. It is about the creation of a social order that values human dignity, improves lives, and promotes progress,” the President underscored, as he addressed the large crowd gathered here at the Sampinit Complex.

The putting beyond use of surrendered weapons, which is under the Government of the Philippines’ Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Management Program, was the highlight of the “Panabang sa Kasanyangan” or Unity for Peace activity. The decommissioned firearms were collected through the efforts of the SALW Program of the Joint Normalization Committee (JNC), a peace mechanism that was created under the Normalization Track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

The event was organized by the provincial government of Basilan, 101st Brigade Philippine Army, Western Mindanao Command and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity’s SALW-ASPIRE Program with UNDP and Embassy of Japan. The historic event was participated in by top officials from the national and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) governments.

The SALW is actively supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under its Western Mindanao Command, Joint Task Force Orion and 101st Infantry Brigade, as well as international peace partners such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Japanese Government through the Assistance for Security, Peace, Integration and Recovery for Advancing Human Security in BARMM (ASPIRE) Project.

In a show of solidarity to rid the BARMM from loose firearms, majority of the governors were present during the event. These are BARMM Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, Gov. Abdulraof Macacua of Maguindanao del Norte, Gov. Datu Mamintal Alonto Adiong Jr. of Lanao del Sur, Gov. Yshmael Sali of Tawi-Tawi.

Historical peace monument

The site of the historic smelting, which the President witnessed is the Sampinit Complex. It is where the Kasanyangan Peace Monument was erected in March 2023 to symbolize the solidarity of the people of Basilan, and their collective desire to put an end to the culture of violence in the province.

Years ago, the municipality of Sumisip was considered a “no-man’s” land due to the frequent armed encounters between government troops and rebel forces, as well as violent extremist groups. The situation has dramatically turned around since then.

The peace monument, which stands in the crossroad of previous battle ground in Sampinit Complex, is eye-grabbing because of the powerful message it conveys. At its topmost portion are two massive hands locked in a firm grip, which signifies the residents’ quest for a long-lasting and genuine peace.

And at the base of the structure is a row of rifles that have been put beyond use – a concrete manifestation of the peoples’ commitment to turn away from armed violence, and pursue the path of peace.

SALW Program: Winning the peace, one weapon at a time

During his speech, President Marcos commended the effectiveness of the SALW Management Program in Basilan, particularly how it is helping to transform the lives of those who have given up their arms, as well as their respective communities.

“Basilan has arrived at this junction of its proud history because it refused to continue to be a place of violence,” the President said, emphasizing that, “It must be woven now into the fabric of social life.”

“In the case of Basilan, the harnessing of its potentials– a land blessed with resources, and a people rich in talent – is the key to enduring peace, one that is based on common progress and shared prosperity,” he added.

Basilan Governor Hadjiman Hataman-Salliman thanked the President for his visit to Basilan, which “resonates your profound trust in our unwavering commitment to forge lasting peace in Mindanao, particularly in BARMM.”

“In the sacred space of the Kasanyangan Peace Monument, we are deeply moved by your presence today Mr. President, it goes beyond a mere gathering it resonates as a profound affirmation of your trust in your unwavering commitment to forge lasting peace in Mindanao particularly in BARMM, in Basilan also. An island that has weathered adversities throughout its history. Your presence, Mr. President, amplifies the significance of our collective pursuit and for that, we are truly grateful of your presence,” he said.

Gov Hataman-Salliman said the province has united to rid the island of terror groups, particularly the dread Abu Sayyaf.

“Upon assumption in office in 2016 as governor, we took a strong stand by declaring an all-out war against extremist and lawless elements in the province. It was the support of equally committed and dedicated partners from the LGUs, AFP, the PLG, and the religious sector. Our dedicated efforts focused on implementing the peace programs – the programs against violent extremism and the ASG, which aim to bring lasting peace to our community,” he vowed.

“In the course of our mission,…taking the first step is to eliminate firearms from our society through a steady and determined approach by demobilizing firearms and integrating back our people to the community,” Gov. Hataman-Salliman said.

He said the SALW program among others helped the provincial government to address loose firearms in the island province.

“With take pride in the opportunity presented by the SALW program that has been initiated by the OPAPRU in collaboration with the provincial government through the national governments and it become the pilot province for the program’s implementation as it aligns in our aspirations to continuously enjoy the gains of peace,” he said.

“Our commitment goes beyond offering peace, it’s about providing opportunities for profound change to those who have surrendered,” Hataman-Salliman added, as he gave the assurance that the provincial government will fully support the SALW Program’s implementation.

He said that at least 400 former Abu Sayaff members have been reintegrated back “into our community.”

“This transformation does not only facilitates the delivery of government services to remote areas but also serves as a testament to our ability to win over the harsh and former adversaries leading them to choose surrender,” he said.

Basilan: An emerging trade and commercial center

President Marcos lauded the concerted efforts of stakeholders in the province, saying “Basilan has arrived at this junction of its proud history because it refused to continue to be a place of violence.”

“Peace is totally achieved not when the sound of gunfire has ended. It is when the clamor for better lives has been met,” the President said.

The President noted that “with the peace and free movement of people, Basilan gradually opened its doors to economic opportunities that helped boost their economical status – from tourism to food.”

“It is known for preserving local culture, cuisine and fashion, for its natural resources that have a lot of potential source of various valued-added economic products, and its hard working and happy people,” he added.

The President issued a challenge, saying, “Basilan’s new role is now the war against hunger…You have a land area twice the size of Singapore, blessed with a rich soil, above-all more or less typhoon-free, which makes you an ideal bulwark in our fight for food security.”

“When your agri-fisheries potentials are unlocked, the whole country, not only Basilan, not only BARMM but the whole country will benefit,” he said, describing Basilan “as a very strategic island in the front and center of our national goals and our transformation.”

President Marcos defined what genuine and sustainable peace is: “Peace is totally achieved not when the sound of gunfire has ended. It is when the clamor for better lives has been met,” the President said.

For his part, Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Carlito G Galvez Jr. said, “the presence of President Marcos in Basilan is a testament of his decisive leadership to win the peace in areas throughout the country that were once ravaged by armed conflict.”

“With these positive developments in the SALW Program, Basilan is gradually shedding its image as a former hotspot and is transforming into a show window of peace and development not only in Western Mindanao but across the country and beyond as well,” Galvez said.

Galvez thanked the decisive leadership of the local government of Basilan and the strong support of the AFP and international community realizing the objectives of the SALW and the Normalization Track.

“Our sincere gratitude to the leadership of local government of Basilan and the relentless support of AFP, and the international peace partners in helping us achieve our common aspiration to free the island province of loose firearms and provide stability in terms of peace and security,” he said.

Following the event, the President held a closed-door meeting with the military’s top brass in Basilan inside the Headquarters of the 64th Infantry Battalion, Barangay Tumahubong in Sumisip, where he was formally received by LTGEN William Gonzalez and Major General Ignatius Patrimonio PA, Commanders of the Western Mindanao Command and of Joint Task Force Orion, respectively, along with other military officers.

He was also given a situational brief of the area in an executive session attended by the Secretary of National Defense, Gilbert Teodoro Jr; the National Security Adviser, Eduardo Año; Presidential Peace Adviser Galvez; Police General Benjamin Acorda Jr, Lieutenant General William Gonzales, Commander of Western Mindanao Command; Major General Ignatius Patrimonio; Major General Gabriel Viray III; Police Brigadier General Allan Nobleza, Brigadier General Alvin Luzon, commander of 101st Infantry (Three Red Arrows) Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Abel O Potutan commander of the 64th Infantry (Knights) Battalion, and BARRM Chief Minister Murad Ahod Ibrahim.

President vows to Basileños for the national government’s support.

“This makes Basilan no longer an island far south, but a very strategic island in the front and center of our national goals and our transformation. Your future and fate are therefore intertwined with the nation’s. Please be assured that we will play our role as partners of Basilan’s great leap forward. May the hope we feel today sustain what we have already achieved in Basilan, and power us towards a Bagong Pilipinas,” President Marcos said.

The President also met with the soldiers assigned in the island province. In a Talk to the Troops, the President emphasized the role of the military to win the peace in ending all armed conflict in the country. ###