Cotabato City, 31 August 2011– The epic Run for Peace and Solidarity for Mindanao ended in a poignant closing ceremony in Cotabato City today after a sometimes grueling, tense but hopeful 10-day historical journey through conflict areas between Zamboanga and Cotabato.
Some 50 runners, bikers, organizers and crew culminated their run at the Notre Dame University gym around 12 noon after embarking on the 26-kilometer last leg from the municipality of Parang early morning.
The Peace and Solidarity run started in Zamboanga City last 21 August and passed through the Maria Lobregat highway in Zamboanga Sibugay and del Sur and the Narciso Ramos highway in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.
Thousands of residents, students and local government officials welcomed the runners to their communities,
homes, schools and offices as they interacted and shared stories, insights and perspectives on peace in the land. Almost everyone the runners met expressed their desire and hope for peace in Mindanao and resonated with the run’s aim for citizen’s participation in the peace process and a negotiated political settlement. After each interaction, a chant of “Peace in Mindanao, Now Na” was taught to the local population by the runners and organizers.
The runners passed through the Lidasan National High School, Sultan Kudarat Municipal hall and the residence and office of the Vice Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) before their penultimate dash to the NDU gym.
Sending them off at the Parang municipal grounds was former Mayor Col. Vivencio Bataga who said that he felt “goosebumps” when he saw the runners arrive the day earlier while he was playing tennis at the Municipal grounds.
At the Lidasan National High School, Principal Myrna Lidasan led more than a thousand students and teachers outside the highway in greeting them and in an impromptu welcome program in the school grounds.
The school was unaware of the arrival of the runners but an advance party of the run organizers explained to them the aim of the run to which Lidasan immediately agreed to support.
Lead convenor of the Bisayang Dako Alang sa Kalinaw or BISDAK, Vic Veloso told the massed students that Visayans like him and most of the runners are also aware and concerned with the peace situation in Mindanao as they are also affected by anything that happens in the island.
MILF Vice Chair Ghadzali Jaafar also welcomed the runners in his office in Simuay, Maguindanao and reiterated his group’s desire for a lasting and just peace in Mindanao. “We are one and laud your objectives as we continue to negotiate with the government of the Philippines”, Jaafar told the runners while he addressed them under the searing heat in his compound. Jaafar earlier accepted in behalf of the MILF, the “Peace Torch” carried by the runners.
Asked by a runner why there was a “war” in Mindanao, Jaafar said that it was not their desire to wage one but the Moro people have been continually brutalized and oppressed in their own land by those who aim to colonize them. They have had no other recourse but to defend themselves. “Only if and when we are able and allowed to govern ourselves can there be real peace in Mindanao”, the MILF Vice Chair said. He said the problem is not about poverty but is “political”.
Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Shahida Mastura of Sultan Kudarat municipality waited for the runners till about noon before their final leg to the NDU gym. Upon their arrival, Mastura told the runners that she appreciated what they have done to contribute to achieving peace in Mindanao.
Escorted by the local branch of the KARANCHO and local runners and bikers from Parang, the 50 runners and their contingent finally arrived at the NDU gym covering the 452 kilometer Peace and Solidarity run.
NDU officials led by Fr. Eduardo Tanudtanud, OMI and Vice-President for Identity and Mission Prof. Sheila Algabre, welcomed the runners while hundreds of students from as far as Midsayap greeted them.
In her welcome remarks, NDU Vice-President Algabre lauded the both the runners and the organizers for their initiative.
The program ended with the arrival of government’s chief negotiator for the MILF, Prof. Marvic Leonen. Leonen accepted the Peace Torch earlier held by the MILF Vice Chair and also assured the runners that the government was committed to the run’s objective of achieving peace through a peaceful, negotiated political settlement.