Philippine war victims rejoice in Bangsamoro treaty
Villagers recall past violence as they look toward peaceful future
People who have frequently been displaced by war in Mindanao watch the signing of the peace agreement between the government and rebels on March 27 (photo by Keith Bacongco)
About 11 years ago Amira Pandulo fled her village in Nunungan to the town square of Pikit in North Cotabato province, fearing she would be trapped in crossfire between government forces and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters.
With her three children and husband, Amira joined the flow of hundreds of people who fled their homes for the safety of the town center.
So many wars in the past, Pikit's town square has served as home, kitchen, dining area, toilet and playground to thousands of displaced villagers who set up makeshift tents.
On Thursday, Amira came back to the square with her neighbors, this time to celebrate the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace deal signed by the government and rebels to end four decades of fighting that killed more than 100,000 people.
"We are excited, and we hope that this peace agreement will put an end to the fighting. We hope this is for real," Amira said.
Amira was teary eyed when government peace negotiator Teresita Quintos Deles said on television from Manila: "No more war. No more children scampering for safety. No more evacuees. No more injustice. No more poverty. Enough. We are tired of it."
Amira came to the town center with some 8,000 other people on trucks, jeeps and motorcycles to witness on the wide television screen on the stage in the middle of the square the signing of the peace agreement.
They sat on the hot pavement under colorful parabolic tents that were erected to shelter people from the heat of the summer sun.
"This is just the beginning," said Mike Maminto of Kabacan. He could not hide his excitement as he smiled at everyone. He said most of those gathered suffered the agony of war in the past years.
Maminto, who is in his 50s, recalled how he fled for his life many times in the past.
"There is no Moro here in Cotabato province who has not experienced an evacuation," he said.
Saguira Nawal from the remote village of Carmen town recalled how she almost lost hope many times. "We have been displaced almost every other year since the 1970s," she said.
Loreto Cabaya, who used to be mayor of war-torn Aleosan town, said other rebel groups should also join in the peace process and rally behind the effort to achieve peace in Mindanao.
In another part of the Mindanao, however, a group of Christian settlers in the town of Wao, Lanao del Sur province, staged a protest rally to call for exclusion from the new Moro region that will come out from the peace deal.
"We are one with our Muslim brothers and sisters; we want them to fully enjoy the creation of a new political entity according to their ways and traditions," said Mayor Elvino Balicao.
"But our town is majority Christian settlers; let the voices of our people be heard. We don't want to be part of a Bangsamoro region," he said.
"If the president has granted the aspirations of the Bangsamoro, then why not also hear our demand for a peaceful society of our own," said Perla Inigo, a community leader.
The townsfolk issued a manifesto citing the population of the town, which is 80 percent Christian, as the basis for exclusion from the Moro region.
Wao, a Christian-dominated community, is a progressive town that has won several awards for good governance. It is situated on the borders of Christian-dominated Bukidnon province and the Muslim majority North Cotabato province.
Inigo said if they were given a choice what province to belong, she said “Bukidnon is the better option”.
In Pikit town, Salima Tumanday held her breath as she watched the screen while rebel leader Mohagher Iqbal was about to sign the peace documents at 5:30 pm. Then the lights in the town square went out.
It was one of those familiar power failures in Mindanao. Tension filled the air. Everyone stood. Somebody shouted to turn on the power generator and resume the screening. Another shouted that nobody knows how to connect the power line to the generator.
The crowd dispersed and boarded their trucks and jeeps. Salima said she would watch the ceremonies later on television in her home in Batulawan village.
“It’s OK. What is important is they already signed. We are already happy,” she said.
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