(This piece is by Eric Lepp, a student from the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He is currently having his internship with the Initiatives for International Dialogue.)
I wasn’t able to attend the entire Run for Peace and Solidarity in Mindanao and its grueling 452 kilometers from Zamboanga to Cotabato City. However, I did get a chance to attend the final day of the run from Parang to Notre Dame University. Looking back on the day, it was a little bit surreal, as if in one of those dreams where everything goes better than you had ever thought it would.
We met the runners at the LGU hall in Parang; they had formed a stretching circle around the flagpole. Having spent several hours in the back of the van from Davao City, we were happy to join in the stretches.
Once the torch had been ceremoniously lit and the runners were ready to go, I hopped in the lead van and headed for Amir Bara Lidasan National High School. The enthusiasm of the school staff and students was certainly infectious – not just for the runners, who they wildly cheered for and greeted as they arrived, but for anyone within earshot. Cars and jeepneys stopped and honked in approval, peace signs were being waved by young and old alike. It was truly inspirational.
After we left the energy of the school, as the runners continued on their way to the residence of Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs. The runners were greeted by Mr. Jafaar, who spoke to of his own personal hopes for peace and successful negotiations between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines.
From the residence of Mr. Jaafar, the caravan of runners, media and support moved on to their final stop before their run into Cotabato City at the Barangay Hall in Sultan Kudarat. The vice mayor met the runners and gave them a banner of support to take with them during their final leg to Cotabato City. The Vice Mayor shared a message of hope for a peaceful future in Mindanao.
As the runners reached Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, they were met with all the banners, much like the one I had seen presented in Sultan Kudarat, that they had been presented with on their 11-day run. It was an amazing sight – a visual that captured the true concept of solidarity in Western Mindanao, as the search for peace continues in the latest round of negotiations between the MILF and the GPH.
As the runners left for their homes in the Visayas, Negroes, and Bohol, Dean Marvic Leonen, Head of the Government’s Negotiating Panel, was presenting a forum on the current peace talks between the MILF and the GPH. Leonen used the imagery of two roads leading to the same place. They both arrive at the destination, but are taking different routes to get there. He asked that we take the third road together. I thought the imagery was fitting, because in my one day with the runners I recognized that this third road existed, and that I had been on it only a few short hours before.