CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews / 28 March) — The mood was festive as thousands of Moro men and women gathered at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Camp Darapanan to celebrate the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front Thursday afternoon.
Green pandala (pennants) lined up the road leading to the camp with mujahideens in tiger camouflage uniform directing the flow of vehicles at the checkpoints. At the designated parking area, vehicles – from SUVs, jeeps, to motorized tricycles, scooters and “habal-habals” – were guided to their parking slots. Vehicles of members of the media were given access to the parade grounds so that they could set up their equipment.
Inside the camp, makeshift tents were set up to sell “ukay-ukay” (second hand clothes), portable solar panels, medicines and refreshments. Some shops also sold fast-dry trek pants, tactical uniforms, MILF patches, flags and banners. A shop also accepted T-shirt printing and rented out rifles for the tactical formation.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, mujahideens in tiger print camouflage uniforms lined up at the parade grounds.
Behind the line separated by twine, parabolic tents provided civilians shelter from the scorching heat.
Twenty-seven year old Sarah Ibod, a former overseas worker in the Middle East came to Camp Darapanan with her three-year old son Mujahid. They traveled for hours from Datu Anggal town, Maguindanao not only to celebrate and be one with the Bangsamoro people but also to witness her husband in tactical formation.
“My husband has been a mujaheedin since he was still single,” says Sarah.
Her son Mujahid, brandished a toy gun trained at the mujahideens in tactical formation, drawing laughter among soldiers who saw it.
“His father wants him to become a sniper for the MILF,” added Sarah while instructing Mujahid not to train his toy gun at people.
Ibod told MindaNews that she almost cried when she learned that the CAB will be signed.
“Sa wakas, inabutan pa namin ang pinakamimithi namin, Inshallah, si Mujahid hindi na magiging sniper” (At last, our greatest wish has come true, that Inshallah, Mujahid will not grow up to be a sniper), she said.
In one of the tents, members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) took their late lunch of “pastil” and rendang.
Naot Mamalangkay, 52, heads the Health and Dental Department of BIWAB told MindaNews that she felt lucky to witness this historic event compared to her siblings who died at the height of the war.
Mamalangkay joined BIWAB at an early age to take care of the sickly women and children.
“Babae at mga bata ang unang apektado pag nagkaka-gyera” (Women and children are the first victims of war), Mamalangkay said.
Asked what kind of Bangsamoro leader she would like to see, Mamalangkay was quick to reply, “kahit sino, mapa Moro, kristyano o lumad, basta dadalhin ang boses ng kababaihan at kabataan at yung igagalang ang karapatang pantao (Whoever, whether Moro, Christian or Lumads, for as long as they will bring the voices of the youth and respect human rights).
Senior Inspector Esmael Madin, chief of Sultan Kudarat’s municipal police, was among the visitors to the camp.
He told MindaNews that while he is happy to finally see that the government and the MILF sign the peace pact, he also fears that spoilers are out to sabotage the situation.
“We will be facing a bigger challenge after the signing (of CAB). Even among our Moro brothers at the PNP (Philippine National Police), some of them do not have the full understanding of the agreements. It is important that there will be a regular information and education campaign for everybody,” he said.
Meanwhile, some of the MILF veterans could not hide their tears and hugged each other as chants of “Allah hu Akbar” filled the air as both parties signed the agreement.
“Almost every Bangsamoro family lost a brother, a sister or a parent. It is time to end this war,” MILF spokesperson Rabby Angkal said.
Angkal said many of the fighters are pinning their hopes for the success of the peace deal on the sincerity of the Aquino administration.
“The MIILF has invested so much in this agreement that we even agreed to the gradual decommissioning of our firearms,” he said.
Some 500 armed fighters gathered in Camp Darapanan early Thursday to eagerly wait for the outcome of the signing.
Journalists who are used to covering MILF gatherings, however, noticed that only a few guerrillas carried firearms.
There were no .50 caliber machineguns, only a handful of the B40 rocket-propelled grenades that they prominently displayed during public events.
But for 56-year old Samira Sunggod, peace will open a new era for troubled Mindanao.
“The war is a bitter experience for me and my family. Many of my relatives died in the fighting. I cannot count how many times my family had to flee,” she said.
Sunggod said she was not able to get a proper education because she and her family had to flee many times.
“This peace agreement is not only for the Bangsamoro people. It is also for the Christians and Lumads. We can have finally have peace,” she enthused. (Toto Lozano with a report from Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)