BAGUIO CITY- As an immediate show of solidarity for Mindanao, indigenous peoples of the Cordillera region locked arms for peace and the right of the Bangsamoro people to ancestral domain.
This was the message delivered by Cordillera peace advocates during the launch of the nationwide Duyog Mindanao Peoples’ Caravan for Peace and Solidarity held at the People’s Park this city after an interaction with internally displaced persons (IDPs) who temporarily left their evacuation centers in Datu Piang and Pikit to appeal for support from the Cordillera.
Duyog or Solidarity Mindanao is a convergence of various initiatives to address the deteriorating condition of these IDPs and to call for the cessation of hostilities.
For one week, participants from Luzon all the way through Visayas and Mindanao will make stops along major cities to hold forums and discussions in the hope that the public will have increased awareness on the cost and impact of war and sign a petition calling for humanitarian protection and assistance to victims as well as the immediate ceasefire and resumption of peace talks.
The so-called Petition for Peace in Mindanao will begin in Baguio City asking President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to uphold peace and return to the negotiating table.
“Naiwan namin ang aming kabuhayan sa mga barangay at dito sa mga evacuation center ay naghihirap kami sa maraming mga bagay tulad ng pagkain, sanitasyon at tulugan. Dito ay umaasa lang kami sa tulong-kawanggawa na lubos na nagpapababa sa aming dignidad. Marami sa aming mga anak ang nagkakasakit at ang dapat na nag-aaral ay hindi na nakakapasok ng paaralan. May ilan na ring namatay sa sakit at tama ng bala sa evacuation center,” said a statement of IDPs, among them is Syrianbai Sangcupan from Datu Piang.
Observing the gravity of the humanitarian crisis from the words of the IDP representatives, Bridget Pawid of the Cordillera Peoples Forum said that “the caravan is a singular opportunity for a North-South dialogue so that some of us will understand the situation in Mindanao. I hope this is the beginning of the dialogue since the Cordillera Region has constitutionally guaranteed autonomy,”
“Our affinity to the Caravan’s cause can be attributed from our historical struggle for self identity and ancestral domain claim which is no different from the struggle of the Bangsamoro communities,” said Judith Maranes of the Baguio Ancestral Land Claimants (BALC)
Maranes further stressed that Cordillera’s participation in the caravan is a conviction that indeed peace can be achieved if the right to land and self determination of the Bangsamoro people will be recognized to the fullest.
“This is somehow an effort to end also the Muslim diaspora that is growing out of dangerous proportions in Baguio City and the rest of the country. There are around 5,000 Moro merchants—mostly originally displaced persons themselves- now eking out a living in Baguio City,” Maranes said.
“This peace caravan is an attempt to erase prejudices against the Moro people based on a general public opinion grossly apathetic to the situation and ignorant of the roots of the conflict in Mindanao, said Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue that is spearheading the Duyog along with other Mindanao-based, national and international peace networks.
Representatives from the Cordillera will be the first batch of caravan contingent who will travel around Luzon, Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao starting today (November 21). On November 28, Moro communities will welcome the whole contingent in Cotabato City to celebrate the start of the Mindanao Week of Peace.
Part of their Mindanao journey will be visits and interaction with IDPs in evacuation centers in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Lanao.
Aside from BALC, local caravan organizers include the: Cordillera Peoples Forum, Peace Tech Embassy Baguio, Sangguniang Kabataan Federation of Baguio City, North Luzon Cooperative Development Council, BIBAK- Benguet State University, Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary, Baguio-Benguet Indigenour Cultural Communities.
The Duyog Mindanao convernors are: Mindanao Peace Weavers, Initiatives for International Dialogue, Waging Peace Philippines, Generation Peace Network, Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute and the Bishop-Ulama Forum. Co-convenors: La Liga Filipina Policy Institute, CARE for Mindanao, Bangsa Moro Peoples’ Solidarity, Anak Mindanao, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Philippine Human Rights Information Center and Balay Rehabilitation Center.
Endorsers of this event include the: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Bishop-Ulama Conference, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict- Southeast Asia.
The MILF has also signified support to the endeavor.