Zamboanga Sibugay

MILF, soldiers turn Zamboanga Sibugay’s crime haven into peaceful town

Antonio Manaytay
MILF, soldiers turn Zamboanga Sibugay’s crime haven into peaceful town

ROADSHOW. The Comelec holds a voters' education roadshow in Tungawan town in Zamboanga Sibugay on Wednesday, March 2.

Antonio Manaytay/Rappler

Tungawan Mayor Carlnan Climaco says the town's peace and order environment further improved with the deployment of a joint government-MILF peace and security group to Tungawan town

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – A Zamboanga Sibugay town that used to be a haven of extortionists and bandits is no longer part a Commission on Elections (Comelec) area of concern – a feat officials attribute to the improved peace situation there seven years after the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sealed a peace deal.

Tungawan town, an erstwhile haven of the lawless, is no longer on the list of areas where there is a need to beef up security for the May 2022 elections, officials said on Thursday, March 3.

The 113th Base Command of the MILF is located in the hinterland part of the town.

But Ahmad Taib Musa, provincial election supervisor, said two of the 16 municipalities of Zamboanga Sibugay – Mabuhay and Alicia – have been placed under the “orange category,” a police-designated color code for places where authorities see serious armed threats.

Tungawan Mayor Carlnan Climaco said the peace and order condition significantly improved in his town after the government and the MILF concluded negotiations for a landmark peace settlement during the administration of the late president Benigno Simeon Aquino III. (READ: Bangsamoro recalls the risk Aquino took for peace)

“The 2019 election was the most peaceful election we had here,” said Climaco.

Incidentally, his uncle Randy Climaco was killed in a widely-perceived election-related ambush while the victim was serving as the town’s mayor in 2015.

Mayor Climaco said Tungawan’s peace and order environment further improved when a joint peace and security group of the government and MILF came.

The Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST), manned by government troops and MILF forces, was deployed to the village of Datu Tumanggong, Tungawan, in October 2021.

The JPST is one of the peace mechanisms outlined under the government and MILF’s Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

“With the peace and security team, lawless elements had been deprived of a place to hide in the town,” said Climaco.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) listed Tungawan as one of the areas under the green category, which means authorities see generally peaceful elections in the town this May.

The Comelec, however, said it was worried about the towns of Mabuhay and Alicia where private armed groups which can disrupt the elections have been reported.

“We will be closely monitoring the elections in these towns,” he said. – Rappler.com

Antonio Manaytay is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship