TOP security officials have urged indigenous Muslim leaders in southern Philippines to support the campaign against extremist groups that the government had vowed to wipe out by July this year.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Eduardo Año and commanders of Eastern Mindanao and Western Mindanao commands; commanders of the Philippine Army’s 1st, 6th and 10th Infantry Divisions and all battalion commanders in Mindanao met with the indigenous leaders during a three-day conference dubbed Mindanao Sultanate Summit on Peace and Security held recently.
Also in attendance were some 450 Muslim traditional leaders from the various Sultanates of Mindanao.
Describing the meeting as a first of its kind, Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office, said, “This summit manifests our application of the convergence approach that is vital in defeating the Abu Sayyaf Group [ASG] and ensuring that vulnerable communities are protected from their violent ideology.”
The ASG, which operates mainly in southern Mindanao, is a jihadist group linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
“By involving indigenous Muslim leaders in Mindanao, we are a step closer in dissolving the terror group’s mass base support and prevent them from recruiting new members,” Arevalo pointed out.
During the conference, the Department of National Defense and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) agreed to partner with the group of Mindanao Sultans headed by Sultan Abdulaziz Salem Mastura Kudarat V, the 25th Sultan of Maguindanao.
Besides extremism, also discussed during the meeting were poverty reduction, community policing, terrorism and violent ideology.
They were followed by a series of workshops aimed at preventing the spread of extremism.
Other security officials present were Philippine National Police chief and Director General Ronald dela Rosa, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., DILG Secretary Ismael Sueno and National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza.
“Aside from advancing the interests of and ensuring respect for traditional leaders in Mindanao, this summit is an opportunity for us to underscore their role in peace and security in the region,” Año said.
“Terrorism and the spread of violent extremism cannot be solved by the military on its own. The active participation and involvement of the different stakeholders are a much needed help in ensuring the peace, security and development of Mindanao,” he added.