Celebrating the International Day of Peace in Aleosan, North Cotabato
Walk for Peace
It was just after the break of dawn when people started to gather to celebrate the International Day of Peace in Aleosan, North Cotabato. Around 300 participants, led by Mayor Loreto V. Cabaya, joined the “Walk for Peace” from Aleosan National High School to the municipal market.
Spirits were high as participants from the Barangay Local Government Units (BLGU), employees of the Municipal Local Government, Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), religious sector, academe, and the youth sector made the two-kilometer trek carrying peace banners and streamers. They were joined by Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI) and Lawig Kalinaw (LK) volunteers.
Upon arrival at the talipapa or municipal market, the peace marchers were greeted with songs and a warm cup of arroz caldo (porridge) from the 40th Infantry Battalion. The community breakfast gave the participants a chance to interact and to recharge after the march. It also set the tone for the succeeding program.
This year’s celebration was marked with an increased participation from the LGU. This was made possible through the able partnership and support of Mayor Cabaya. All of the 19 barangays were represented in the day’s activities. This includes the barangay captains from the five partner barangays of Balay Mindanaw.
New Panay Barangay Captain and LK volunteer Lolita V. Caputolan spoke in behalf of Lawig Kalinaw and stated that people from the barangay, including LK volunteers, are united in working for peace. She added that LK volunteers, having come from communities directly affected by conflict, are vigilant in keeping the gains achieved in the struggle for peace.
‘Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future’
One of the highlights of the day’s celebration was a Peace Painting Workshop participated in by students from the Aleosan National High School and Pagangan High School. Balay Mindanaw facilitated this, as led by Chariya “Aya” Om and Lala Aspera. Aya is an intern of Balay Mindanaw from Cambodia.
Guided by the theme “Building Peace in My Home,” at least 61 students from both high schools produced paintings depicting their hopes and dreams in relation to peace in their homes and community. The concepts and issues covered by their paintings were varied and wide – from inner peace, to peace within their homes, up to peace and development in their barangays (villages) and in Mindanaw. Most pronounced were the call for unity among the tri-people of Mindanaw, the coming together of Muslims and Christians, and an end to the conflict between the GPH and the MILF.
The youth were quite active in the whole day celebration. Aside from the high school students, members of the Mission Station Youth Council (MSYC) joined the Walk for Peace. MSYC volunteers helped in facilitating the opening program and the painting workshop.
Another highlight of the day’s activities was the Creative Peace Forum, wherein young artists from the Cotabato Theater Group presented a short drama sketch depicting the lives of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the struggle of the Bangsamoro people.
The significance of the participation of the youth was stressed by Mayor Cabaya in his welcome remarks wherein he stated that leaders of the LGU are working hard to achieve peace and development, not for their generation but for the next. He added that youth participation is made even more relevant by the theme for this year’s International Day of Peace celebration, “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future.”
Lt. Col. Roy M. Galido, 40IB commander, reiterated this. In his opening message, Col. Galido remarked that the future lies with the youth. He then encouraged the youth to be aware of the issues that confront their community and at the same time to learn from the lessons of history.
The International Day of Peace is a global celebration established through a United Nations Resolution way back in 1981. Although it was only in 2002 that the UN General Assembly declared September 21 as the official date for International Day of Peace. In the Philippines, this coincides with the anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law. It was on September 21, 1972 that then President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law and lifted the same only in 1981.
After 40 years of commemorating the suffering and injustices experienced under Martial Law, it is but high time to unite in celebrating the Day of Peace in recognition of the peacebuilding efforts done throughout the years. There has been a strong presence of solidarity, co-existence, transcendence and transformation of societies despite the limitations and challenges. And there is a call for hope and for peace to be continuously and concertedly pursued by all stakeholders.
Mayor Cabaya and Col. Galido attest to both personal and societal transformation that has taken place in recent years. Col. Galido observed that while soldiers also espouse the ideals of peace, for the longest time they have been doing this while carrying guns. But now, Mayor Cabaya recognized the 40IB as valuable partner for peace, no longer war.
Col. Galido shared that when he was first assigned in Aleosan, he was warned about Barangays Dungguan and Pagangan. “Noon hinaharangan ang Barangay Dungguan at Pagangan, pero ngayon ako na ang pumupunta sa Dungguan at Pagangan.” (“Before, Barangays Dungguan and Pagangan were blocked by the military, but now I am the one who goes to Dungguan and Pagangan.”)
Mayor Cabaya also shared a similar story of transformation. “In 2008, I was there holding a gun. Pero ngayon apat na beses na akong nakapunta sa Darapanan kasama ang mga kapitan ng barangay dahil nais naming ipakita na iisa ang ating mithiin para sa kapayapaan.” (In 2008, I was there holding a gun. But now, I have been to Darapanan four times together with the barangay captains, because we wanted to show that we have but one goal, that is, peace.)
In August of this year, there were armed encounters between the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the military, causing the displacement of at least 26,400 individuals from six municipalities in Maguindanao. Elements of the BIFF were also sighted in North Cotabato towards the end of August, which triggered panic and fear among some residents of Aleosan, especially those living in the far flung sitios of Tapodoc, Bagolibas and Pagangan. Residents temporarily evacuated from their barangays. Though unlike the IDPs in Maguindanao, they were able to return to their homes in less than a week.
Notably, most of the residents of Dungguan did not leave their homes. It was to the credit of Barangay Captain Mholds Suga, also a Lawig Kalinaw volunteer, and other barangay leaders that the situation was contained. The Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (MDRRMC) led in gathering the LGU and various stakeholders in order to address the situation. As Col. Galido observed, “this is how bayanihan should be – communication followed by action – with all the stakeholders actively involved in order to achieve peace.”
Indeed, the International Day of Peace is not only a call to celebrate peace but also a call for personal transformation and societal change.
‘There’s plenty of fish…’
An old man was once asked, “How is the peace and order here in your community?” The old man replied, “The fish are plenty, but there is no order (i.e. there are no buyers).”
Mayor Cabaya shared this anecdote during his speech and added that sometimes our understanding of peace is different from each other. And that at times conflict stems from this misunderstanding. Just like what happened in 2008, where the controversy that surrounded the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and the MILF peace panels and the violence that erupted thereafter was sparked by the confusion regarding the terms of the agreement. He then encouraged the people to get involved and try to learn more about the ongoing peace negotiations between the GPH and the MILF. “Dapat alamin natin. Tayo ang apektado kapag mapirmahan man o di mapirmahan ang kasunduan.” (We should try to know more about the proposed terms of the agreement, since we are the ones who are most affected by the outcome of the peace talks.)
“Tayo na taga Mindanaw ang apektado, wag na natin dugtungan pa. Suportahan ang pagsisikap ng gobyerno na lutasin ang problema ng kapayapaan sa Mindanaw.” (It’s us from Mindanaw who are affected by this conflict, so let’s not worsen things. Instead, let us support the efforts of the government to achieve peace in Mindanaw.) Mayor Cabaya added that the municipal LGU of Aleosan, together with the provincial LGU of North Cotabato under the leadership of Gov. Lala Taliño-Mendoza, support the peace initiatives of the Aquino administration because they have seen the sincerity and determination of President Aquino to resolve the conflict between the GPH and MILF.
On September 25 the GPH and the MILF panels will head back to Malaysia to continue the talks. Both panels hope to sign the peace agreement before the end of this year. Mayor Cabaya once again admonished the people to support the peace process. “Sa panahon na ito marami tayong maririnig na mga kwento-kwento na maaaring maganda o pwedeng makasama. Ang aking paalala at hiling lamang ay – let us give peace a chance.” (At this juncture of the peace talks, we might hear stories and hearsays, a number of which might be good, some might even contribute to setbacks in the talks. My only appeal is this – let us give peace a chance.) “Hindi importante kung maliit man or malaki ang ating kontribusyon, ang mahalaga ay may ginawa tayo para sa pagsulong ng kapayapaan.” (It is not important whether our contribution is great or small. What matters is that we are able to do something towards achieving peace.)
Indeed, having felt the brunt of war, the people of Aleosan know the value of peace only too well. “Matagal na natin sinisigaw ang kapayapaan, pero ngayon ay may aksyon na tayo” (We have long been advocating for peace. The difference is that now our advocacy is already accompanied with action”), Col. Galido observed as he congratulated the people of Aleosan. He added that peace is not merely the absence of war, but rather the creation of an environment wherein people can live secure and with a peace of mind. And although this might sound simple, it is no easy task. But it is a task the people of Aleosan are willing to do.
Celebrating the International Day of Peace is but a small demonstration of this coming together as a community for peace. As they raise the peace flag as a symbol of their unity, one can’t help but admire their resolve to pursue peace. In the words of Ms. Aya Om, “I am thankful for this experience of coming to Aleosan and witness how the theories of peace are translated into reality.”
Kalilintad. Kalinong. Salam. Kapayapaan. Kalinaw. Merinew.
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