As a pact of solidarity for peace and right to self-determination, the Ilonggo communities of the Visayas welcomed the participants of the Duyog Mindanao Peoples’ Caravan for Peace and Solidarity with a motorcade and public discussions in the cities of Iloilo and Bacolod.
A motorcade from the Provincial Capitol grounds of both cities signified the start of the Visayas leg of Duyog (or Solidarity) Mindanao which followed a public fora and interaction with internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Pikit, Cotabato and Datu Piang, Maguindanao. In Iloilo, the public fora were held in the University of Iloilo and West Visayas College of Science and Technology. In Bacolod, the discussions were held in the Provincial Capitol Social Hall and the University of St. La Salle.
“The warm welcome and participation of the Ilonggos in the peoples’ caravan is actually a message to everyone that Ilonggos and the Moros are friends,” 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.
In the meantime, Duyog Mindanao organizers estimated more than half a million people are now displaced and in deplorable conditions in cramped evacuation centers or are seeking refuge with relatives and friends in safer communities due to the conflict between the government arm forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“This latest saga of hostilities have also shown how prejudices are so much based on ignorance and how media can blow this puny bias out to very dangerous proportions. An anti-Moro, anti-peace rhetoric has dominated the public discourse of late,” Miclat said.
“The reason behind this Duyog Mindanao is that most of the citizenry – specially those from Luzon and the Visayas- have been mostly exposed to this heavily one-sided picture of a conflict-ridden Mindanao in general, and of the treacherous and marauding Moros in particular. This caravan is to otherwise present the picture that the people of Mindanao want peace and their rights to be respected,” Miclat said.
Muchtar Nawal, a 13-year old evacuee from Pagangan, Pikit, North Cotabato and the youngest among the group said that joining this caravan is a chance to tell his story to his fellow students why war is actually being waged against a child like him.
Muchtar said: “ang hirap ng kalagayan namin sa evacuation center. Ang sikip, hindi kami makapasok sa eskwela” (Our situation in the evacuation center is very difficult. The place is too cramped and we cannot return to school).
Recent findings of the international group Save the Children revealed that war whether disastrous or victorious is waged against the child and its biggest casualty is children’s education. When children cannot go to school they lose one of their main sources of stability in their life, according to the group.
Muchtar is one of thousands of children in Central Mindanao who for a time need to stop schooling because the schools have been turned into evacuation centers. He just returned to school but need to excuse himself for a few days to share his saga through this caravan.
Archibishop of Jaro Angel Lagdameo who also serves as the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has expressed his solidarity in a statement: “I gladly encourage and endorse the project of Duyog Mindanao whose vision is to generate broad public support to provide humanitarian relief to people in Mindanao affected by the on-going conflict and war. Its purpose is to promote peace by actively campaigning to get all warring forces to a ceasefire towards peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
On Sunday, the Duyog Mindanao participants were welcomed by a thunderous applause from a jam-packed mass during the feast of Christ the King today at the St. Nino cathedral in Calapan, Mindoro. Vicar General Fr. Nestor Adalia who celebrated the mass asked his parishioners to support the calls of the caravan.
Oriental Mindoro Governor Arnan Panaligan who also attended the mass expressed his solidarity by saying “everybody is affected by any war wherever it is happening in the country”.
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 Forum, 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.