Hiatus in Sulu: Tausugs Get to Breath Some Peace While AFP Turns Guns to Cotabato

JOLO, Sulu – With the Philippines’ Armed Forces’ attention currently focused on the Central Mindanao conflict, this southern island province is seemingly benefiting and positively enjoying a serene atmosphere, visibly relished by its residents. More and more native Tausugs are becoming secure enough in their own peace. They savor a small but nevertheless real consolation in that the AFP can only bring its war to one major front at a time.

One early morning in downtown Jolo, vendors are seen busily attending to their customers, a mother is assisting her little child cross the busy street as tricycles and pedicabs whiz by them. This make for a peaceful and fear-free picture for this otherwise troubled town, where a curfew was once commonplace.

Every afternoon, too, people from different villages of this town and neighboring Patikul as well as visitors from somewhere farther out gather along with their family at the beautiful capitol complex plaza, where the newly painted capitol main building stand straight in a perfect dramatic background. As the different multi-color glittering lights begin to come alive, people troop to this park whether for a simple get-together, to hang out with friends or simply to unwind after a tiring, heavy workday. Others go for a picnic in a friendly pool at a nearby grandstand, where massive beautification works are also going on.

Beyond these beautiful scenes, there exist two silent yet robust dreams to see real and not just temporary peace come for good in the island. These are the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) and the Kalimayahan Family Life Center (KFLC) – both a Catholic Church-affiliated entities who help to make those wishes a reality for this Muslim-dominated province.

“We really dream to see this island peaceful, where the people co-exist in a harmonious way,” JPIC director Fr. Romeo Villanueva told PeaceWorks in his office in Notre Dame school located in this town. He said JPIC has been working with different stakeholders to propagate and to engage them in peace-building.

Among their activities are trainings on good governance and peace-building in grassroot communities, local officials, security and police officers, as well as jails visits and participation in community celebrations. “In this work, we mostly focus our inputs on values formation. We are concerned more with addressing individual goodness – touching the heart rather than mind,” the priest said when interviewed at his office in De Mazenoid Formation Center.

His office also maintains a “Peace Watch,” which monitors and records issues and happenings in the province.

Though at times he felt quite threatened by the violence in the island, Fr. Vill, as he is fondly called, does not let those apprehensions to hinder from him from pursuing his mission for the people of this province, who notably are made up with more than 90% Muslims.

“Its part of our work here, our dedication. We are doing this work to liberate the minds of everybody of their duties and responsibilities as responsible stakeholders of the province,” he added.

This early, too, Fr. Vill is also already planning activities for the coming celebration of the Mindanao Week of Peace. “It is through that celebration that we can really feel the real spirit of peace, when the different communities come and join hands to celebrate,” he said.

JPIC is the lead secretariat for the annual celebration in the province, specially in Jolo where just recently its officials together with other stakeholders (including JPIC) declared it a “Zone of Peace.”

“So far the people are very supportive, as well as the local officials,” he noted.

While Fr. Vill’s JPIC is focused on giving trainings that touch the heart, KFLC is into more humanitarian works, particularly the provision of basic social services.

According to Pilar Fernandez, KFLC community mobilizer, her Kalimayahan Family Life Center is now covering the entire Jolo and four villages in the neighboring Patikul and Indanan with their services.

“In my almost four years in this work, I really see the enthusiasm and full cooperation of the people,” she said of their beneficiaries. “They are really the ones moving in their community,” she added.

“It is really nice to note that even though I am not from Jolo and not a Muslim, I still get their full support,” Fernandez, a Zamboangueña said.

The local beneficiaries say they also realize the importance of the project. “We should not talk about religion here, but only about what we can help as Muslim to help our fellow Muslims,” said volunteer mother Nurfalyn Patinga. Patinga, a mother of three, is among the beneficiaries of the KFLC housing project and other services in Kalimayahan Village.

“We saw that through our collective effort, we developed something good for our community,” she added. Patinga is currently the president of the Krislam (Christian-Islam) Magtalianak Parents Association, which is mostly made up of mothers organized under the KFLC program.

As a people’s organization, Krislam according to Patinga is geared to building harmonious communities for both Muslims and Christians in Jolo. “We adopted the bayanihan model in our activities. We have projects like Alay Linis in the community and supporting KFLC in their activities, like alternative education for our youth and children,” she revealed.

Supported by the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF), KFLC has also implemented the Child Development Barangay Plans, functioning in different KLFC barangays. Fernandez said they are also into different services: education for children, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, capability building for parents, microfinancing and programs for children and youth.

Above all these are the dreams – of both the Muslims, Christians and other faith believers alike in this province – to see and live in real peace. And experiences and activities like these are just among the many efforts the people of this province have undertaken. “I hope other good things will follow,” Patinga said, seemingly reflecting the sentiments of people of Sulu, where conflict and violence seems to be an on and off situation in this true land of promise.

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