COTABATO, Philippines – A retired general took on the role of top presidential adviser on peace, signaling President Rodrigo Duterte’s new mindset on how to deal with the country’s rebel groups.
Newly retired Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Carlito Galvez Jr formally took the helm at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on Friday, December 21, at a most crucial time for the government’s peace initiatives.
He completed the retired generals’ takeover of key posts handling peace, security, and delivery of government services to the people – functions that the military says are intertwined. (READ: In 2018, Duterte turns to military for (almost) everything)
Galvez moved from the AFP to the civilian OPAPP, but his mission didn’t change or end the decades-long conflicts plaguing the country.
“The President’s marching order to me is to reorganize OPAPP so it can be refocused on the intent of really putting an end to the different conflicts in Mindanao,” Galvez said in an interview in Cotabato City on December 19.
“The OPAPP will work together with the National Security Council (NSC). We will work closely with the agencies for our socioeconomic interventions. We will be working closely with the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government), DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), and DOH (Department of Health). It will be collective work,” said Galvez.
It’s “collective work” with retired generals like himself occupying civilian offices in government. The NSC, DILG, and DSWD are led by retired generals Hermogenes Esperon Jr, Eduardo Año, and Rolando Bautista.
“The advantage of military people is we are very focused on mission accomplishment. If we want to make things happen, we will do all necessary actions immediately. We are focused. We are very, very committed,” Galvez said.
He will also bring in his men from the military to the OPAPP, but dismissed concerns of “militaristic” thinking prevailing there. (READ: Mindanao rights groups wary of Carlito Galvez as OPAPP chief)
“I think I have a systematic mind. I studied how to really solve problems,” Galvez said.
Galvez graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1985, the Sandiwa Class. He received higher education in Australia and various military and management trainings abroad, including at Harvard University in the United States.
The bemedaled officer was also a recipient of the United States Eisenhower Fellowships in 2006.
Galvez assumed the post of peace adviser at a critical time for the government’s peace initiatives.
“We have the plebiscite in Mindanao to win. We have also President Duterte’s EO (Executive Order) 70 to accomplish. And we have other equally important peace tables that we need to continue to engage with,” Galvez said in his assumption speech in Manila last Friday.
It’s only a month away from the crucial vote that aims to complete the political settlement with the dominant Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Galvez will face a lot of work next year, whether or not the people would ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that will create a new autonomous Muslim government to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
If it wins, he will oversee the transition to the new government.
If it suffers a hitch – in courts or in the ballot – he will face the task of managing the disappointment on the ground and avoiding a repeat of the violence that followed the court’s rejection of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s peace bid in 2009.
A staunch advocate of the peace process with the MILF, Galvez has been well-received by many Bangsamoro stakeholders.
Outgoing ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, a key supporter of the peace process, said Galvez’s appointment is most timely. (READ: Hataman calls for ‘yes’ Bangsamoro vote in last address as ARMM governor)
“In fairness to the man, when it comes to the peace process, you wouldn’t think that he’s a military man,” said the governor. “The BOL is his expected output. It should be tangible.”
But Galvez’s appointment was a blow to talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Galvez was the AFP chief behind the “Red October” allegations against the Philippine left, accusing the communist rebels of masterminding Duterte’s ouster. (READ: 2018 blockbuster: ‘Red October’ plot vs Duterte)
“The OPAPP is now emphatically militarized with the appointment of a rabid anti-communist general as secretary. EO 70 is one more presidential issuance to terminate and prevent the resumption of peace talks at the appropriate national level between authorized representatives of the Philippine government and NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines). It is in furtherance of the de facto martial rule and the scheme of imposing a full-blown fascist dictatorship on the people,” CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison was quoted as saying.
Galvez will oversee the implementation of EO 70, a new strategy to end Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. Early in December, Duterte formalized initiatives to pursue localized peace talks as he appeared to give up on talks with the CPP leadership.
“The difference between the two is sincerity,” said Galvez, comparing peace talks with the MILF and the CPP. “Sincerity is key in order to have a successful peace process. We have seen that there is really sincerity between the MILF and the government so the confidence is there.”
He added: “We have been talking with them (CPP) for years and nothing happened. We will look at other possibilities. We believe EO 70 will work. The national task force, a civilian-led institution, will address the underlying causes of rebellion.”
Reorganize OPAPP, address corruption
His plate is full, but Galvez also has an additional task. On the heels of a corruption controversy that forced his predecessor Jesus Dureza to resign, Galvez was ordered to overhaul the bureaucracy and rid it of corruption.
“We will reorganize first…. The President said, ‘You can bring your own team.’ I’m so happy that the President is giving me a [free] hand to reorganize,” said Galvez.
This is Galvez’s first test and how he will go about it will determine the support he will get from the ground.
“We will maintain only those competent, honest, and committed individuals. Corruption is widespread on the ground. We have seen that. We will get new people who really understand the ground,” Galvez said.
He added that the probe into corruption will continue, and the guilty would be punished.
His responsibilities are great and his promises are lofty. Galvez is out to prove warriors like him are the best peacemakers.
“I’m committing myself to be a good Secretary. I’ll put my honor, integrity, and position on the line.” – Rappler.com
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