GENERAL SANTOS CITY – The Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) XII is determined to continue all of its initiatives in SOCCSKSARGEN Region despite the threat of COVID19. Secretary Isidro S. Lapeña, Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) and RTF-ELCAC XII Chairperson, personally visited the region for the launching of Project IPEACE (Indigenous People Empowered as Agripreneurs towards a Collective End) in the identified pilot barangays of the region on June 23-24, 2020, for the NTF-ELCAC’s Mindanao Inter-Regional Convergence Meeting on June 25, 2020, and to preside over the 8th Meeting of the RTF-ELCAC XII on June 26, 2020.

As the Director-General of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), CORDS Lapeña went to barangays Alegria (Alabel, Sarangani) and San Jose (General Santos City) on June 23, 2020, and to barangays Datal Blao (Columbio, Sultan Kudarat) and Manobo (Magpet, Cotabato) on June 24, 2020 for the launching of the project.

The IPEACE is a brainchild initiative of TESDA Regional Office XII which aims to create self-reliant, resilient and sustainable IP communities, transform IP communities into integrated food production sites, contribute to the programs of the government in achieving food security, enable indigenous people become empowered and productive citizens, and to end the communist insurgency.

The accomplishments of the RTF-ELCAC XII in the previous months were also reported during the NTF-ELCAC’s Mindanao Inter-Regional Convergence Meeting on June 25, 2020. TESDA XII Regional Director Rafael Y. Abrogar, II, head of the RTF-ELCAC XII’s Technical Working Group, mentioned some of the major challenges faced by the RTF. One of these is the sustainability of the Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP), in the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs) of the region. Second, the imposition of community quarantines, mass gathering limitations, physical contact, among others, brought about by the COVID19 pandemic. However, Secretary Lapeña emphasized that this pandemic should not stop or curtail the duties of the Task Force. “Let us not allow COVID19 to stop government from delivering its services to the people” Secretary Lapeña said. Moreover, Director Abrogar added that, as the world continues to develop vaccines for the disease, the Task Force should likewise push through in its fight against the communist insurgency in the region. “We hope that we can end this CTG problem in SOCCSKSARGEN Region parallel to the global efforts in eliminating COVID19” Abrogar said.

Lastly, Secretary Lapeña also presided over the 8th RTF-ELCAC XII meeting through online conferencing from General Santos City. As the host of the meeting, Sarangani Governor Steve C. Solon delivered his message by emphasizing the efforts of the Provincial Government of Sarangani in combatting terrorist groups, not only the CTGs but also other lawless elements and extremists in the province. Discussions during the meeting focused on the establishment of Task Force’s Operation Center, the Project PASIGA (Poverty Alleviation through Social Intervention and Government Assistance) of the Department of Energy, the accomplishments of the different Line-of-Efforts, the milestones of the local (provincial, city, municipal, and barangay) ELCAC task forces, and the salient features of the hotly-debated Anti-Terrorism Bill which is now awaiting the President’s signature.

One major agreement reached was on the immediate resolution of the issues concerning the Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) in Sultan Kudarat through close coordination between and among parties involved. Before the caucus was adjourned, Secretary Lapeña reechoed President Duterte’s instruction that government services should be available, delivered, and enjoyed by the people in the remotest far flung areas of the region, especially to the indigenous peoples’ (IP) communities, to counter the influence of the communist terrorist group (CTG) in those areas. (Jose Anthony Laurent P. Octavio, NEDA XII-PFPD)