by Samira Gutoc-Tomawis
DARAPANAN, SULTAN KUDARAT – Inspired by the sight of people of all colors and vehicles of all kinds, with Moros travelling by land, air and water to attend the Bangsamoro Leaders’ Assembly, I psyched myself up to walk almost an hour to reach the stage where speeches by the esteemed leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front were being delivered.
Those present were a list of who’s who, not just of the Moro community but also of the diplomatic community: Young Moro Professionals’ (YMP) Omar Sema representing MNLF secretary general Muslimen Sema, Dr. Abdurrahman Amin representing MNLF founder Nur Misuari, Cabinet representatives of President Benigno S. Aquino III, the Government Peace Panel, and representatives of the Organization of Islamic Conference, the International Contact Group, The Asia Foundation, Conciliation Resources from the United Kingdom, Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Muhamadiyyah, diplomats from Indonesia and Turkey, and other Moro leaders like Reps. Sandra Sema of Cotabato and Tupay Loong of Sulu.
Also present for the MILF general assembly were 6th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Rey Ardo and Malaysian peace talks facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Bin Tengku Mohamed.
In their speeches before the assembled Bangsamoro community, some of the speakers recalled their childhood memories of war and expressed a longing for it to end.
Takbir, or the exclamation “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great!) was repeatedly shouted throughout every speech.
This is the first time for both fronts, MNLF and MILF, to come together in a show of unity in front of hundred thousand of their constituents. Nakakataas balahibo at the expanse of white veils and black attire that I saw. Organizers took pride in the well-organized event with comfort rooms placed in strategic areas and no untoward incidents reported. In organizing such an activity, the Bangsamoros proved they can actually govern themselves in an orderly manner even with their own resources without government support. Media, including several foreign stringers and cameramen were organized with a sitting box across the stage for the video cameras so that people sitting on the grass won’t be disturbed and be able to see the stage decorated by intricate colors of Moro-dom.
Along the way with a friendly weather above, we trekked vast greenery with registration tables along many corners and ushers in civilian and fatigues manning the uncemented path. Protocols had to be observed in the paths to take. We had to leave our phones and camera as they are not allowed here except for media. Women walked a different path across the men. Many wore black. Lady “soldiers” wore fatigues and manned the stage as well showing equality of genders in managing peace and security. Though the event was civilian, there were men with displays of bullets tied in a belt-style wrapped around their chests.
I was lucky to sit near the stage where I got to chat with members of the panels and local leaders. MILF officials prominent in Lanao, Dr Safrullah Dipatuan, Jannati, and Atty Blo Adiong arrived. Host Mayor Tocao Mastura with brother Atty Ishak also arrived. Atty Mary Ann Arnado was with Cocoy Tulawie’s wife. Yasmin Lao was with co-peace panel (GPH) Hamid Barra.
The decor around was lavender with yellow mamandiang sequined wall display, and rainbowed paper flowers around, wow. Ethnic food was distributed in a communal way even among the foreign diplomats. This is something to cherish. My pride swelled to hear that fellow Maranaos were the ones who decorated the area.
The veiled Raissa Jajurie, the lone lady lawyer assisting the MILF talks, was a good sight to see, bringing confidence that peacetalks inshaallah led by the elders would bear fruition in an administration which enjoys popular respect among the Filipinos. Good to hear that retired Justices are in the loop in an effort to reach out to all sectors, said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Teresita Deles who repeatedly recalled 2005 when she was in Darapanan with high hopes that peace talks would bear fruit. Those high hopes were quashed when she had to resign from the GMA administration.
It is good to hear the high hopes of many foreign and local mediators and the front leaders. We told lawyer Johara Wahab , another YMP, a Maguindanawan (UP law graduate) lawyer assisting government chief panel negotiator Marvic Leonen that the judiciary is a major actor to keep in mind if the peace talks are to bear fruit.
Samira-Gutoc Tomawis is a PCIJ fellow, a writer, and most of all, a Moro.