Mindanao Muslims, Christians mark Eid in former rebel camp

Philippine event also attended by Marawi siege hostage priest was a combined effort to promote unity
Mindanao Muslims, Christians mark Eid in former rebel camp

Catholic priest Teresito Soganub (in black shirt), who was held hostage by terrorist gunmen during the siege of Marawi in 2017, greets former rebel leader Abdullah "Commander Bravo" Macapaar during the celebration of Eid'l Fitr in a former rebel camp on June 5. (Photo by Richel Umel)

For the first time, Muslims and Christians shared a meal to mark the feast of Eid'l Fitr in a former rebel camp in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao to show unity.

The celebration was part of a "Duyog Ramadan," (One with Ramadan) program initiated by the government and various civil society groups.

It was also a "multi-stakeholder effort" that aimed to promote "social healing and reconciliation" among residents of communities affected by armed conflict, organizers said.

"This occasion signifies unity between Muslims and Christians," said Abdullah "Commander Bravo" Macapaar, a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

"We are determined to bring back peace to Mindanao and strengthen the relationship between Muslims and Christians," said Macapaar who is now a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority — the interim government of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Once a feared Moro rebel commander, Macapaar spoke of the need to use government resources not for armed conflict but to uplift the lives of people.

"We spent billions of pesos during armed conflict. Let's not use our funds for war but instead use it to help our people," the former rebel leader said.

Also at the event was Teresito "Chito" Soganub, a Catholic priest held hostage by terrorist gunmen during the siege of Marawi in 2017.

A "new chapter for peace" in Mindanao has started, said the priest as he stressed the need to strengthen interfaith dialogue in the region.

"One of the reasons why we are here is because we support the development here in Camp Bilal," Father Soganub said.

Camp Bilal used to be a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels for many years.

Father Soganub said stakeholders of the peace process in Mindanao are working together to promote "understanding, co-existence and respect among Christians and Muslims."

In his message, Carlito Galvez, a former general, said the celebration of Eid'l Fitr "brings us compassion and love ... and strengthen our resolve to continue our pursuit of reconciliation and unity."

Galvez, who now heads the government's Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said Camp Bilal will "showcase the normalization process" of Mindanao.

Decades of rebellion by Moro separatists stunted the economic development of Mindanao despite its vast fertile lands and huge mineral deposits.

In 2014, the Philippine government struck a peace deal with the rebels, ushering in the establishment of a new autonomous Muslim region in the southern part of the country.

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