In a significant move towards peace and security, over 40 peace agents from Western Mindanao convened to evaluate the status of peace and security in the Zamboanga Peninsula and the island provinces of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).


The gathering, known as “Expanding and Sustaining ZamPen-BaSulTa Regional Peace and Security Dialogues,” brought together long-standing peace workers, academics, religious and barangay leaders, civil society organizations (CSOs), and members of the security sector last April 30, 2024 in Zamboanga City. The event aimed to facilitate the exchange of information on the current peace and security developments in the Zamboanga Peninsula and Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa) area of Mindanao, identify collective and actionable responses to emerging peace and security concerns, and reinforce the accountability of the security sector in providing official updates to major stakeholders.


Police Major Shellamie Chang from the Police Regional Office-9 presented data indicating that from January to April 19 (comparing 2023 and 2024), murder cases increased by five, while seven other prevalent crimes (theft, physical injury, rape, robbery, motorcycle carnapping, homicide, and motor vehicle carnapping) showed a decreasing trend. PMaj. Chang called for the support of the CSOs present to assist the police in identifying strategies that could further reduce crime incidence.


Addressing the rising shooting incidents in Zamboanga City, PMaj. Chang expressed PRO-9’s alarm over the 36 shooting incidents within the first four months of the year. The victims’ profiles spanned across social status, gender, and culture. Chang assured that the police are doing everything to address the situation and once again sought the help of the CSOs in advocating for peaceful resolution of conflicts.


Meanwhile, Col. Rey Pasco from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command reiterated the military’s earlier announcement declaring the whole of Zamboanga Peninsula as insurgency-free.


Researcher Prof. Noor Saada highlighted new research by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) on preventing violent extremism. Saada suggested that designing culturally sensitive and sustainable programs, practicing transparency in all government transactions and decisions, and promoting the true teachings of Islam starting in school are some of the strategies that may be effective in preventing the proliferation of violent extremism.


The event concluded with a unanimous call for peace dialogues to be sustained and for communication and collaboration with the security sector to be nurtured. The peace and security dialogue was organized by the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance, Inc (ZABIDA) and Peace Advocates of Zamboanga (PAZ), with the support of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), specifically through its Australian Government-funded political dialogue program.