War-torn town gets back on its feet
NORTH COTABATO, Philippines - The town of Aleosan found itself at the center of hostilities in 2008 following the failure of the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Houses were burned and destroyed in the crossfire, and in Central Mindanao, nearly 700,000 people were left without a home.
Four years later, both sides signed a Framework of Agreement that sets the stage for the setting up of a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao. When we arrived here on Monday, October 30, we saw no trace of tension in the area, save for the presence of two army trucks.
Col. Roy Galido, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 40th Infantry Battalion, confirmed that some members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), who instigated the 2008 conflict, reside in the area, but he stressed that the likelihood of conflict is minimal because the community does not want any more of it.
“The Freedom Movement will try to make a statement. Most of [the army’s] work here is on law enforcement. We’ve been building confidence for years. Most of themare also residents here,” he said.
The town's community-based approach in settling conflict has been effective in preventing any major battles from happening again.
Leaders in each local government unit work together and personally talk to the residents concerned to address even the smallest disagreements in the area. It's an inclusive and tolerant process, Galido said.
“They are our people, too. The start of peace is to open our lines to everybody,” he said. “Once conflict erupts, who will be the first victims? Their families. Of course, they don’t want that."
Bing Mayisig, the 32-year-old Barangay Captain of Langayin, was one of those who was forced to stay in an evacuation center for one year with her 4 kids. When they returned to their home, she found all their possesions burned to the ground.
She has since gone back to it with the help of non-government organizations in the area, including the government’s PAMANA or Payapa at Masagang Pamayanan program, which provides homes and livelihood for internally displaced people in confict areas.
“Malaki ang pagbabago. Muling binuhay ng mga NGO’s ang lugar namin. Pati ang mga anak ko, nag-aaral sila nang mabuti (There is a big change. NGO’s brought our place to life again. Even my kids, they are getting good education now),” she said.
On concerns regarding the possibility that members of the BIFM will derail the peace process, Galido said that there is no animosity between the BIFM and the MILF. “In our areas, North Cotabato and Northern Kabunsuan, [BIFM] has affiliates. But they’re passive. If you’re passive are you violating the law? No.”
Aleosan Mayor Loreto Cabaya said that the area is now peaceful, compared to the period before the signing of the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). The Supreme Court declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional.
“Noong August 2008 nung pipirmahan pa ‘yung MOA-AD ay nagkakaroon na ng maraming armado diyan sa Bungguan, sa Tapudok. And then ngayon naman po napirmahan na tapos wala kang nakikitang armado dahil nga naging open although sinasabi nga na hindi pa nga total yung massive information drive. Pero kami well-informed na kami. Nakakagawa na kami ng konsultasyon sa ating mamamayan," he said.
(In August 2008, when the MOA-AD was about to be signed, armed groups were already present in areas such as Bungguan and Tapudok. But now, the agreement has been signed yet you don't see any armed groups because the process was open although some are saying that we have not yet totally implemented our massive information drive. But we are already well-informed and we have conducted consultations with our constitutients.)
The main difference between the 2008 MOA-AD and this year’s Framework Agreement was the government's decision to hold consultations with communities about the peace negotiations.
“Dean Marvic Leonen is very transparent and we saw his expertise and what he was saying that he is there to represent the Republic of the Philippines,” Cabaya said.
Hopes, concerns for the Framework Agreement
Cabaya said he is hoping that the communities will continue to be involved in the next steps of the peace process, particularly in the creation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
“We hope that when the proposals for the Basic Law are included in the calendar of business of the Congress, there will be another consultation. Anyway, we know that no laws can be passed without public consultation,” he said.
The optimisim on the gound is palpable, but it's also apparent that the residents need to know more about what the peace deal entails.
Farmer Guialis Wahat, 44, for example, does not know the difference between the MOA-AD and the Framework Agreement.
Yet despite the uncertainties, Barangay Lawil Kagawad Rey Caululan, 36, leaves it up to the national government to fulfil its duties.
"Kung anong nasa taas, kasama kaming mga barangay officials diyan (Whatever the higher ups decide on, the barangay officials are already included in that),” he said.
But Nolani Halipa, 38, said that people are “very very” happy about the agreement.
“Nung makapagpiramahan masasaya talaga kaming mga Muslim kasi makakapagpahinga na kami (When they signed the agreement, we were really happy because finally we could already rest),” she said.
Student Rosie Mae Caluna, 16, said she hopes that the war will end so she can finish her studies. She is in fourth year high school now.
“Kasi po 'pag may gulo wala kaming pasok (Because when there’s conflict we don’t have classes),” she said. - Rappler.com