ZAMBOANGA CITY – MUSLIM and Christian groups and individuals in southern Philippines were one in calling for peace and ceasefire, amid the continuing fighting between government troops and Moro rebels, as the Muslim world celebrated Eid’l Fitr, the culmination of the 30-day fasting during the month of Ramadhan, last October 1.
“Let there be peace, love, respect, interfaith harmony be the wheels toward a prosperous and peaceful Mindanao,” said Muhammad Abdul Raouf Ekong, a young Muslim youth entrepreneur.
Ekong, who is part of the organizing committee that staged a Ramadhan Festival in this city, said that the time calls for an end to the cycle of hostilities in Mindanao.
“Let peace be the food of their love, for there is no bad peace and good war,” said Rameer A. Tawasil, a renowned Tausug-Zamboangueño painter.
Tawasil, who has been known for painting the plight of Moros in Mindanao in his more than 20 years as a visual artist, has also staged a month-long art exhibit which seeks to narrow the cultural gap between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao.
Former vice-chairman of the government’s peace panel Rudy Rodil said the month long Ramadhan was a good time to reflect on the need for peace in Mindanao. “Both Muslims and Christians believe that peace flows from within. If we want peace we desire it from within,” he told PeaceWorks.
“I’m praying that peace will reign in Mindanao and in the whole country,” Datu Harun U. Bandila, regional governor Autonomous Muslim region business council, added.
Others also called for the government and the MILF to restart the southern peace talks.
“Let’s get our acts together for the common good. We should go back to the negotiating table,” said Col. Mohammad Nur A. Asklani, head of the government team in the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, a body formed by the government and the MILF to address the prevalence of organized crime in Mindanao.
Others called on the Moros in Mindanao to continue its fight for self-determination.
“As we celebrate the end of Ramadhan, we can only pray for peace and that our [Muslim] brothers and sisters will strengthen their patience ‘sabr’ and faith ‘imaan.’ Peace will come,” Amina Bernardo-Rasul, executive director of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy.
“To the Bangsamoro (Moro nation) people, never give up or loss hope in your struggle for self-determination and preservation of your culture practices in our religion. Be patient and optimistic that the future will answer your call,” said Jainal M. Hamad, Mindanao Business Council’s representative for the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Armed conflict in Mindanao has erupted after rogue members of the MILF started attacking civilian communities in the wake of the both territory deal between the government and the MIILF. Government troops are still running after MILF hardliners in the jungles and hinterlands of Central Mindanao. The hostilities have already killed more than 30 civilians and displaced 500,000 others. The firefight continued even during Ramadan.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the leadership of the MILF will still push for an ancestral domain agreement despite the pronouncement of the government that it has abandoned the plan.
“For us it is the only formula to achieve our self-determination,” he told PeaceWorks.
Iqbal said they thanked Allah for “the strength and for keeping their faith” as the government keeps on pounding their camps in pursuit of some MILF members. He also called on his armed members to refrain from attacking but only to defend their selves.
“I call to our members not to initiate attacks. Follow the teaching of the Qur’an and the Geneva’s rules of engagements,” he said.
Meanwhile, the military clarified that they will not use “excessive force” as being projected by other sector. “What we are saying is that we will use proportionate firepower depending on the LMG’s (lawless MILF group) strength and to thwart them in launching attacks,” military spokesman lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, Jr., told PeaceWorks.
As this developed, government troops in the battled-scarred of Sulu launched a sports contest for the children in the strife-torn province as part of the Eid’l Fitr celebration
“In a place where children are allowed to be children is the place where there is peace. As protector of their rights, we want them to enjoy their rights to play, have fun, and take pleasure in the company of others without fear,” said Col Eugenio Clemen, commnader of the 3rd Marine Brigade.
He said roughly 500 kids with some grown-ups enjoyed the different traditional games like palo sebo, hitting the pot, pabitin, and sack race.
“With this activity, we see smiles not only on children and their parents’ faces, but also on Marines, who are fathers of children they hardly ever spend time with,” he said.