TAWI-TAWI TAKES ON THE PEACE PROCESS: Linking the Peace Process with Local Peace and Security Mechanism

Written by Hazelyn A. Gaudiano, Pro PolitiCS for Peace, Institute for Autonomy and Governance.

The Provincial Government of Tawi-tawi commended Saturday, the efforts of different stakeholders including Civil Society Organizations in extending their support and assistance in addressing the peace and order concerns of the province through the Provincial Peace and Order Council Consultative Meeting last December 5, 2015 in Bongao, Tawi-tawi.

The consultative meeting gathered the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC), members of the Provincial Board, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), AFP, PNP, and members of local special bodies in a 1-day forum to discuss and layout schemes for the management and resolution of issues and problems related to peace, security, and development confronting the province.

Hon. Governor Nurbert M. Sahali participated in the forum where he stressed the need of strengthening the rules and regulations pertaining to people’s mobility in search of economic opportunities and livelihood. Tawitawi is beset with the problem of human trafficking.

In a bold appeal to the national government – represented by the POEA in the forum -, Gov. Sahali said: “The National Government should look at the provisions and any other resources that would enforce anti-human trafficking interventions including the capacity building and equipment to address the issue.”

Meanwhile, aside from human trafficking, the subsequent discussion produced the inventory of existing security threats in Tawi-tawi such as illegal drugs and extremism (ISIS, ASG, KFRG and etc.). The discussants confirmed that illegal substance abuse and illegal drugs trade is rapidly increasing in the Municipality of Bongao and also in other areas of the province.

Trafficking-In-Persons

The issue on human trafficking, also known as “Trafficking-In-Persons” (TIP), in the province was given more detail in the presentation of the Philippine National Police- Tawi-tawi (PNP Tawi-Tawi) headed by Provincial Director PSSupt. Elizalde Quiboyen.

The Police data showed that Trafficking-In-Persons victims mostly came from Luzon, Visayas and Zamboanga peninsula who were recruited through the social media such as facebook/”wechat”. Allegedly, this illegal activity uses Tawi-Tawi as transit point of the shipment conduit to Sabah and onwards. The victims of Human traficking enter Malaysia without supporting documents such as passport, working visa and/or tourist visa.

The report noted that some of the victims are minors, with most of the female victims end up working as waitresses, GROs, or exploited sex workers. Having been previously sold by their recruiters to Malaysian employers, the victims also end up paying back to said employers the amount of their purchase. Furthermore, almost all of the male victims were recruited to work in palm oil and lumber industries in Sabah, Malaysia.

The PNP believes that some Malaysian employers have contacts with Filipino recruiters/facilitators in the Philippines.  According to the PNP report: “All of the reports are based on the statements of the deportees from Malaysia who were rescued in Tawi-Tawi”.

Anti-human trafficking advocates recommended for the province undertake massive advocacy and information drive on anti-human trafficking issues. Further, such provincial effort should be in conjunction with the implementation of community watch group where people can help in reporting persons who they think are at risk of trafficking. Structural safety comes in the form of strengthening “hotlines” for coordination among. Final recommendation pushes for the appointment of an Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) focal persons who will track and report human trafficking incidences in the province and who will oversee the establishment of protective services such as temporary shelter for the victims.

Illegal drugs and Extremism

The participants all agreed that the trade and use of illegal drugs is existing in the province, confirming that: “… selling and using of illegal drugs is very rampant not just in Bongao but also in the other areas in Tawi-tawi.”

Mr. Marvin Santos, Chief of Inter-Agency Counterops Network of PDEA shared the agency’s perspective and interventions in addressing the illegal drugs issues in the province. He marked that: “…Zamboanga City is a transient point of illegal drugs going to the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.”

He lamented that, the agency is manned with few operatives covering the areas of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and the island provinces of BaSulTa. Accordingly, one of their strategies is to focus on plugging the flow and stopping the transhipment of illegal drugs right in Zamboanga port and airport before it could proceed to the island provinces.

By way of proactive strategy, PDEA is also strengthening the anti-illegal drugs campaign among communities - reaching out to the youth as the vulnerable population.

Meanwhile, the AFP and PNP agree that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Kidnap for Ransom Group (KFRG) were monitored to be active for the period targeting Mining workers in Languyan municipality. In addition, they claim that presence of Private Armed Groups (PAGs) are being monitored sincet June 4, 2015.

MINDANAO PEACE PROCESS: Current Status and Way Forward

The core of the discussion centered on the Peace Process, with the participants asking: “What is the current status of the peace process?”.

Undersecretary Atty. Jose Lorena of OPAPP dealth with the query by presenting the updates on the ongoing peace talks. He focused on the current status of the Bangsamoro Basic Law of the MILF and the Tripartite Review Process of the MNLF.

According to him, both agreements are at the doorstep of full convergence stressing that the peace processes are now at the brink of passing the BBL/BLBAR, and also of completing the Tripartite Review Process of the 1996 FPA. The transition process is ongoing from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro. He capped his presentation with the assertion: “WE ARE AT THE BRINK OF PEACE”.

Normalization Aspect

In his presentation, Atty. Mohammad Al-Amin Julkipli of the GPH peace panel legal team defined the normalization program as “the process through which communities affected by decades of war in Mindanao can return to peaceful life and pursue sustainable livelihood free from fear of violence and crime.” In the foregoing discussion, he stressed that the normalization roadmap runs parallel with the political component of establishing the Bangsamoro Government. The larger part of the normalization aspect covers the transitional justice and reconciliation theme, which is already being undertaken even while the BBL is still in-transit in the legislative houses. The decommissioning  of the Bangsamoro combatants will be moved forward in phases, he said. 

Undersecretary Loreno concluded the updates on the peace process with the assertion: “We have not come so far and so close; to give up now.”

The Tawi-Tawi PPOC Consultative Meeting was spearheaded by the Pro PolitiCS for Peace project implemented by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) in collaboration with the Provincial Government of Tawi-Tawi, and in partnership with the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF), Zamboanga Basilan Integrated Development Alliance (ZABIDA). The peace forum and Consultative Meeting was undetaken through the support of Australian Aid.