Pikit town plaza: from evacuation site to place of joy as GPH, MILF sign peace pact

PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews/28 March) – Eleven years ago, Amira Pandulo fled Barangay Nunungan due to fear they might be caught in the crossfire between government forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters.

Moro men and women gather at the plaza in Pikit, North Cotabato on Thursday (27 March 2014) to celebrate the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. MindaNews photo by Keith Bacongco

Moro men and women gather at the plaza in Pikit, North Cotabato on Thursday (27 March 2014) to celebrate the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. MindaNews photo by Keith Bacongco | View More Photos

Together with her family and dozens of her neighbors, Pandulo evacuated to the town plaza which had served as a refuge of displaced villagers in the previous wars.

But on Thursday, March 27, she and her neighbors returned to the plaza for a different reason: to celebrate the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the government and the MILF in Manila.

“We are excited and hoping that this peace deal will put an end to the conflict,” she said in the vernacular.

Pandulo is just among the 8,000 Moro men and women from different parts of the province who came to this town on board on trucks, jeepneys, tricycles and motorcycles to witness the televised signing of the agreement.

Salima Tumanday, now in her mid-30s, said she was thrilled to see the actual signing even if just on screen.

“Sana, ito na nga ang solusyon,” (I hope this would be the solution) said Tumanday who fled Buliok during the war in 2003 and built a makeshift tent in Barangay Batulawan, some 10 kilometers away.

But like some of the men and women in the gathering, she never returned home in Buliok after their house was destroyed during the war.

Festive mood

As early as 8 a.m., truckloads of men and women arrived to witness the signing of the peace deal via cable satellite, projected on a widescreen installed on the wall of the stage. Most of the women wore green abayas and hijabs, but only a few men were seen wearing green shirts.

Some mothers brought with them their children and placed sleeping mats on the plaza grounds. The colorful parabolic tents lent the gathering a more festive mood.

A band entertained the crowd by rendering some songs on peace and the Bangsamoro.

Like most of his compansions, Mike Maminto admitted that he was ecstatic to witness the signing of the peace agreement, which he said was a product of blood, sweat and tears of the Bangsamoro people.

“This is just an initial step to resolve the four decades of conflict,” said Maminto, who hails from Kabacan town.

He added most of the people who gathered for the celebration had endured hardships as evacuees.

Now in his 50s, Maminto said he had experienced running for dear life when he was still young. “Sino bang Moro dito sa Cotabato ang hindi nakaranas ng pagbabakwit?” (Who among the Moro in Cotabato haven’t experienced evacuation?)

Saguira Nawal, who came from a remote village of Carmen town, hoped that the peace deal would bring peace in the region so that people will no longer be displaced.

Nawal recalled that her worst experience was during the war in 2000. “We have experienced evacuations since the 1970s and 1990s.”

Mixed feelings

Yet while they hope that the pact would bring peace, many of them still feel unsure if it would totally put an end to the conflict.

Recalling their past experiences, some of them, particularly the women, were still worried they might flee again once fighting erupts.

Both Nawal and Tumanday said they understand that the signing is just a beginning of the much larger effort to achieve absolute peace.

“We’re happy but of course we’re a bit anxious because we don’t know what would happen in the next few months. There are still many things to be done,” Nawal said in Filipino.

Rachelle Buhisan admitted that she could not explain her feelings while watching the signing ceremonies.

Buhisan, who hails from Barangay Kitulaan in Carmen, hopes the pact would bring lasting peace.

She added that even if it is tiring to travel onboard a sugarcane hauler truck, they still came for the historic event.

“We tried to find a way to come here even if we have no money. Even if it’s hot here we don’t mind because we’re happy although a bit worried. Let’s just pray that this would be the solution,” the 39-year old mother said.

Buhisan recounted she had experienced several evacuations since she was a child in Jolo. She added life as an evacuee is very tough and hoped they would never experience it again.

First step

For Manny Makinding, a former teacher, the signing is just an initial step to peace.

“A lot work needs to be done to achieve absolute peace,” said Makinding who hails from the marshy villages of Pigcawayan.

He added all sectors not just the MILF and the Moro communities need to join the big task ahead.

Provincial Board member Loreto Cabaya called on other Moro revolutionary groups to unite and rally behind the national effort of achieving peace.

The CAB is only an instrument and the people of the Bangsamoro should work hard to achieve lasting peace, said Cabaya, who is a former mayor of the war-torn town of Aleosan.

Zaynab Ampatuan, executive director of the Moro Peoples Core, cautioned that the signing of the peace agreement does not mean peace is already in the bag.

Ampatuan said peace will only be realized if all the provisions in the agreement will be properly implemented by both the government and MILF.

Going home happy

The live screening started around 2 p.m. And even if the glare made viewing difficult, the crowd still gathered closer to the stage amid the scorching heat of the sun.

Some made video recordings of the telecast proceedings with their mobile phones and tablets. “We will show this to those who were unable to come and those who have no TV,” said one the babu (elderly woman).

But just as both panels were about to sign the documents, power went off due to a daily rotational brownout spoiling the crowd’s celebratory mood. (See related story) Some of them just laughed off the power outage while others expressed frustration.

The crowd dispersed in less than five minutes. One of the organizers said it was also good that power went off because the people could go home early.

“Okay lang din na nag brownout, basta napirmahan na nila. Masaya na kami,” (The brownout is okay. What’s important is that they have signed it. We’re happy) she told MindaNews.

Everyone was going home happy, said one of the bapa (elder men). (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2014/03/28/pikit-town-plaza-from-evacuation-site-to-place-of-joy-as-gph-milf-sign-peace-pact/

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