Maguindanao folks hype 2 events as signs of peace in province PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 18:25

Beleaguered sectors in Maguindanao province witnessed over the weekend two big events that were for them enough to prove there is no reason for the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to abandon the Mindanao peace process.

The now 18-year GPH-MILF peace overture was made shaky by the deadly encounter last January 25 between policemen and Moro rebels in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, which erupted right  after lawmen, 44 of them killed in the ensuing firefights, shot dead Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli  bin Hir, also known as Marwan, in a dawn raid at his lair in the area.

The two events complementing the Mindanao peace process, the “Sagayan Festival” and the Bangsamoro Bike for Love, both highlighted how public officials, MILF leaders, the police, the military and elders of the provincial “tri-people,” which groups together the Muslims, Christian and lumad settlers in the province,  can effectively cooperate in maintaining law and order in Maguindanao.

“The two `multi-sectoral peace engagements’ were sufficient to outweigh assertions by people in Metro Manila, in Visayas and in Luzon that the government must declare war against Moro rebels as a solution to the nagging security problems in Mindanao,” said businessman Pete Marquez, a senior member of three big business clubs in Central Mindanao.

The Sagayan Festival, a yearly activity since 2011 of the office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, showcases the customs and traditions of ethnic Maguindanaons and their Christian and lumad neighbors, including their indigenous centuries-old livelihood crafts and customary peace-building practices.

The February 9-14 Sagayan activities, among them street dancing parades, canoe racing among Moro inland fishermen and Christian peasants, and a forum on rubber and oil palm propagation, were held in Buluan, the new provincial capital, within range of 60 and 81 millimeter mortar projectiles rebels can launch anytime from no fewer than a dozen MILF enclaves scattered in neighboring towns.

Lt. Col. Markton Abo, commanding officer of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion, whose subordinates secured the venue of the Sagayan events as early as seven days before the start of the week-long festival, said local MILF commanders and moderate Muslim clerics helped the military and the provincial police secure the festival from saboteurs.

“We ought to thank the government-MILF ceasefire committee, the provincial governor and all members of the league of mayors in the province for helping one another put up a good festival that showed outsiders that security problems in this part of the country are best addressed through mutual cooperation among local sectors,” Abo said.

Marquez, who is based in Cotabato City, and a colleague, Bai Sandra Siang, president of the Muslim Business Chamber of Kutawato, both said they have allayed the apprehensions of their trading contacts abroad by explaining to them that the Sagayan Festival and the biking event that capped its culmination on February 14 were tacit indicators that the January 25 Mamasapano incident could not be used as gauge in assessing the overall security situation in Maguindanao.

“How the province had a peaceful, week-long show of cultures and traditions, attended by comedian Vice Ganda and Binibining Pilipinas 2014 Mary Jean Lastimosa, was a proof that we have peace here, that Muslims, Christians and highland non-Muslim people here are at peace with each other,” Siang said.

The Sagayan Festival also grouped together the more than 4,000 Muslim, Christian and lumad college scholars of the provincial governor’s office, which is overseeing the now four-year Maguindanao Program for Educational Assistance and Community Empowerment.

Among the bikers that pedaled through isolated stretches of the Cotabato-Tacurong Highway, en route to Buluan, were soldiers led by Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, members of the Maguindanao provincial police, representatives of the MILF and the 36 local government units in the province.

Two members of the Mangudadatu clan, siblings Khadafy and Freddie, an incumbent member of the 24-seat Regional Assembly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and mayor of Mangudadatu town in the second district of Maguindanao, respectively, also joined the biking event.

The bikers passed through stretches of the highway near hinterlands from where the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had launched attacks on public conveyances and motorists in years past.

“We could not have embarked on this biking activity if there is a serious security situation in our province. These groups that want resumption of hostilities between the government and the MILF do not have a good understanding of what the real Mindanao security climate is,” said Khadafy, a younger brother of Gov. Mangudadatu.

The ARMM lawmaker said besides Pangilinan and his subordinates in the 6th ID, bikers from other units of the Armed Forces also participated in the event.

The bikers unanimously urged the government and the MILF not to abandon the Mindanao peace process as they converged in Buluan to grace the culmination program of the Sagayan Festival.

Gov. Mangudadatu had thanked the bikers, in a brief dialogue while in Buluan, for helping him correct what was for him an “erroneous perception” by people in other regions that the January 25 Mamasapano incident had caused a breakdown of law and order in the province.