For the first time in this island’s history, at least nine major networks and organizations are coming together to organize a forum that will perhaps help determine the future of Mindanao.
A diverse group of inter-faith, peace advocates, business, academic, multi-sectoral and civil society organizations will be inviting all the presidential candidates to Davao on April 16, to listen to what their plans are for Mindanao.
Dubbed “Listen Mindanao: We Care for you”, the forum is meant to find out if the presidential candidates have actual plans and agenda for Mindanao, and if they do, to find out what they are. The forum also intends to gauge if the candidates indeed care for the island and its peoples. Representatives from key sectors and communities will engage and pose specific questions to the candidates.
The presidential candidates will be given at least 10 minutes each to present their plans and vision for the region. Afterwards, questions will be taken from the representatives such as the Moro, indigenous peoples and women.
The forum is organized by the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), Bishops – Ulama Conference (BUC), Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), Kusog Mindanaw!, Mindanao Business Council (MBC), Mindanao Commission on Women (MCW), Mindanao Association of State Colleges and Universities Foundation (MASCUF), National Ulama Conference of the Philippines (NUCP) and the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID).
“We will not outrightly offer any of our respective agendas to the candidates, but we will instead primarily listen to them, and only engage them afterwards” explained Gus Miclat, Executive Director of IID, an advocacy and solidarity institution promoting conflict prevention and peace building, democratization and right to self determination in Southeast Asia including Mindanao.
“This is a historical milestone for Mindanao. We are gathered as one for what we have been working on for many years, to bring peace and development in Mindanao,” explained Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, Co-Convenor of the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) and who sits as the head of the forum’s core group. The BUC is composed of 24 Catholic bishops who are also members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), 26 Ulama and Ustadz, members of the Ulama League of the Philippines (ULP), and 18 Protestant bishops and pastors who are members of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
A universal sentiment among Mindanao leaders and civil society organizations is the Manila-centric political culture in the country. Mindanao leaders have in numerous occasions presented, proposed, lobbied and even sometimes pleaded with Malacanang and the powers-that-be in Manila for its fair share in the governance and conduct of its own affairs but to no avail.
“We have been steeped in developing, drafting, crafting agendas, proposals, plans for the National Government to heed. It is high time that we reverse the practice of Mindanaoans going to Manila to meet with national officials to “sell” our ideas, “market” our dreams and pray for our deliverance,” stated IID’s Miclat whose advocacy is to start a culture of sustained dialogue with national government leaders.
To date, the presidential candidates have been provided two forums to meet Mindanao constituents and discuss certain issues in Davao City. One was organized by the Ateneo de Davao University and the other organized by the sect headed by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy called “Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name” where the top two contenders Villar and Aquino failed to show up.
The convenors of this new forum slated next month have invited representatives of the indigenous peoples and the Bangsamoro from as far as Cotabato and Lanao including the Zamboanga peninsula to attend the forum. It is expected to be covered and carried live by media, cable companies and by an organization of Mindanao bloggers. As of 2004, Mindanao votes represent approximately 25 percent of the country’s total votes. (Initiatives for International Dialogue)