CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Mike Baños / May 8) - There's a clear link between peace and economic development, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the erstwhile conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
This was the observation made by BGen. Edgardo Gurrea, chief of government's Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (GRP-CCCH), in a series of peace advocacy forums conducted across military camps in South Central Mindanao over the weekend.
In his presentation, Gurrea said that between 2002 to 2005, the number of violent encounters between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) went down from almost 700 to 10, registering a drop rate of 97.3 percent.
This dramatic reduction, he said, resulted to an economic growth rate of nearly 18 percent in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). That record, Gurrea added, represented the "highest Gross Regional Domestic Product growth rate nationwide for CY 2003-2004."
Government and the MILF had begun ceasefire talks as early as July 1997. Implementing guidelines have been drafted since then, and various ceasefire mechanisms have been put in place.
Among these are the joint GRP-MILF CCCH, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group that coordinates police action against criminal activities within conflict areas, and the International Monitoring Team which helps monitor and preserve the integrity of the ceasefire.
Keeping the peace has not been easy, though. Major battles were seen in the MILF's Camp Abubakar in 2001 and in its last stronghold in Buliok Complex in Maguindanao in 2003. Despite these, and the periodic reports of alleged ceasefire violations from both sides notwithstanding, Gurrea insists the truce is holding up.
"And we have the dividends to prove it," he said. Among these is the increasing interest and commitment from the donor community. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) has just begun the spadework for a two-year study on the socio-economic reconstruction of conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
Canada has just put in an additional P40 million to fund development efforts in the island, on top of the P30 million it already shelled out last year. And the European Union has pledged to pitch in to the World Bank-administered Mindanao Trust Fund to the tune of one million euros.
News reports confirmed that, contrary to previous norms and in recognition of earnest peace-building efforts being undertaken today by civil society, donor countries are now willing to support development initiatives even if a peace agreement has yet to be reached.
Other benefits cited by Gurrea are (1) a "marked improvement" in the level of trust between MILF and government forces as manifested in joint socio-civic activities and anti-crime operations, and (2) a broadening of awareness of local government officials on the "imperatives of an enduring peace in Mindanao."
Gurrea said the GRP-MILF-IMT CCCH is also inviting media to a tripartite conference launching at Pryce Plaza Hotel on May 9, 8:30AM.