“There were rallies in Cagayan de Oro, Pikit, Cotabato and in Davao. This means that the government needs to listen to our pleas. We do not want war; we do not need another long list of human rights violations; and we do not want another violence,” Amirah Lidasan, national president of Suara Bangsamoro party-list said.
Her statements were punctuated with the sound of the gong, “a traditional Maranao instrument used to drive away the bad spirits” and “a sound that calls on tribes to gather.”
“Papayag ba tayong mga Mindanawons to become the target of violence and to be tagged as Abu Sayyaff?” Lidasan asked a crowd estimated to have reached a hundred.
The sound of the gongs reverberated as the protesters chanted in unison, “Allahuakbar! Allahuakbar!”
“In many fact-finding mission we have done in Jolo and Basilan, we have always noted the covert participation of the US forces in military operations by doing supervisory functions (over Philippine) soldiers who are on field,” she said, adding that “one black US soldier even shot a resident of Tuburan who had actually assisted the foreign soldiers in their supposed humanitarian mission.”
Lacs Dalidig, president of the Muslim Multisectoral Movement for Peace and Development (MMMPD) said the rally is intended to “express our demand to stop the Balikatan exercise because it may affect the peace situation in our community and the ongoing peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).”
Dalidig said the chosen areas for “humanitarian mission” of US soldiers in Lanao are the prominent former camps of MILF. “The US soldiers in these areas might provoke another war. This we do not want to happen. This is the reason why we request them to stop this humanitarian mission which is part of the Balikatan Exercise,” he said.
Dalidig explained that a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed last Monday by Lanao del Sur provincial governor Mamintal “Bombit” Adiong and Brig. Gen. Reynard Ronnie Javier, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade based in Campo Ranao, Marawi City, on the conduct of “humanitarian mission.” But many officials, whose named were among the signatories, did not sign the said document, Dalidig said.
Dalidig said the MOA contains agreements, among them, that US forces must leave on March 4 and that they should not move freely in the different areas of Lanao del Sur.
He also said that a joint consultation was conducted in the province about the US soldiers’ “humanitarian mission but most participants in this forum kept mum about their true sentiments.”
Sammy Maulana, a member of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) who was also at the rally, said that “before foreign colonizers invaded our lands, we were all peace-loving people. Today, we are suffering from state terrorism,” he said.
Maulana said the US’ “humanitarian mission” can be done by Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). “But why must these medical mission be done in areas of the MILF and NPA?” he asked.
“We all know that US soldiers live with liquor and women. We cannot allow them to transgress the image of this only Islamic city,” he added.
Adona Orquillas, member of the local monitoring team, said the “humanitarian mission” embedded in the Balikatan exercises was ‘intended to win the hearts and minds of the people; make us accept them by the assistance they gave us.”
“Lest we forget, they are bringing with them high powered armaments against their perceived enemies. We must oppose them because we Filipinos might become recipients of the retaliation of their enemies,” Orquillas stressed.
“Their presence here is a violation of our constitution. We are supposed to be an independent state,” she added.
Maulana said the US soldiers are everywhere in Mindanao. “They are here for our resources; for oil and for gold,” he said.
After the peace rally at the city plaza, the groups moved in a caravan to Mindanao State University campus in Marawi at 1 p.m.
Dalidig said that they would stop at the Ayala resort hotel where American soldiers are stationed.
“We will blow our horns and bang our agongs to drive them away,” he said. (Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)