Speakers during the 119 th Independence Day celebration in Negros Oriental yesterday sounded off calls for peace, with their messages focusing on terrorism, the war on illegal drugs and the Marawi siege.

Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo led the celebration with Secretary Judy Taguiwalo of the Department of Social Welfare and Development as guest of honor and speaker.

The celebration, spearheaded by the provincial government of Negros Oriental, reeled off at 7 a.m. at the Ninoy Aquino Freedom Park with a flag-raising ceremony, followed by the laying of wreaths at the bust of the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, a 21-gun salute by the Philippine Army soldiers, and the playing of “Taps”.

At the start of the program, Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes asked the hundreds in attendance to join him as he led in the praying of the Oratio Imperata for Peace.

The obligatory prayer for a special intention, entitled Angelus Prayer versus Terrorism and Violence, was issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines after war broke out in Marawi City following its siege by terrorist groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf.

Cortes also appealed to the people to be more responsive to fellow Filipinos in need, especially those who have been displaced in the ongoing conflict in Marawi, those who are displaced and sick and are at evacuation centers in Iligan and elsewhere, Filipinos who have been affected by the illegal drugs war and those struggling to feed their families.

Degamo reassured his constituents that the provincial government is working 24/7, alongside the government’s peace and security forces, to ensure that Negros Oriental is safe from the threat of terrorism.

“With the clear and present danger posed by extremists and terrorists, your provincial government is closely coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard and other significant civilian government agencies through the Joint Task Force on Security”, he stressed.

Degamo added the province is prepared 24/7 to act on “human-induced threats and to respond to atrocious acts by terrorist groups when the need warrants”.

Sr. Supt. Henry Biñas, acting PNP director of Negros Oriental, and Col. Eliezer Lozañes, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army in the Negros Island Region, also reassured the same during their respective messages that they are working hard to keep the peace and to insulate the province from the threat posed by terrorists and other extremist groups especially in nearby Mindanao.

The assurance came as the governor had earlier mentioned in his message that with the current situation in Marawi, “we remain potential targets of any violent attacks by insurgents and terrorists”.

Both Biñas and Lozañes have assured that they have enough troops on the ground as well as other logistics and resources that are ready at any given time to respond to any terror-related alert.

In fact, the Joint Task Force on Security to which they belong, alongside other AFP and PNP units, continue with their unabated patrols and other activities such as intelligence gathering to ascertain the safety and security of the people here.

The also reassured of their relentless operations against illegal drugs as part of the Task Force’s primary concerns and as directed by its chair, the governor.

Taguiwalo expressed her gratitude to the provincial government and to all those who received and welcomed the evacuees from the strife-torn Marawi City.

“Nagpapasalamat tayo dahil napakahirap ang dinaanan nila at ang ating tulong na maibigay sa kanila ay very much welcome (We are thankful because they are currently going through difficult times and whatever help we give to them is very much welcome),” said the Cabinet official whose agency plays a significant role in the relief and rehabilitation of these evacuees.

Taguiwalo also highlighted the role of the AFP and the PNP to ensure that those who come here do not disturb the peace and security in the towns, cities and the province.

The celebration was attended by hundreds of employees from the provincial and local governments, different government agencies, and civil society organizations’ representatives, the academe and students, among others.

It ended with the release of white balloons to signify peace and prosperity for Negros Oriental.*JFP/PNA