Peace week draws bigger participation in Tacurong, GenSan

Both cities started joining the MWOP celebrations starting last year only, mainly through the initiatives of the religious sector.

"This year is better than the first because local peace groups have been united, thus we have many activities like this kids' coloring contest for peace and peace concert," said Alma Celesthia Aguja, executive director of the Kalimudan Culture and Arts Center based in General Santos.

The center, a coalition of local artists and non-government organizations in General Santos, has tied up with the local Catholic Church so the city can take part in the celebration. Muslim groups in the city have also taken part in the activity.

Dave Salazar, vice president of the Peace Advocates of Sultan Kudarat (PASKU), echoed the claims of Aguja, saying that Sultan Kudarat celebrated the recently concluded MWOP in larger scope with many groups participating.

Sultan Kudarat and General Santos City, about 100 kilometers apart, have separate organizers for the MWOP celebrations, with the Archdiocese of Cotabato and the Diocese of Marbel, respectively, playing key roles.

Salazar believed that participation in the weeklong peace celebration, which was also observed in other parts of the south, is serving its purpose in as far as Sultan Kudarat is concerned.

"More civil society organizations and local government units are getting involved in our peace efforts. This is a positive sign in that the level of awareness has not rested only about war but it moved towards peace," he told MindaNews.

PASKU was formed only last January following this city's participation in the MWOP, emanating from the initiatives of religious and academic leaders at the Notre Dame of Tacurong College.

Since then, it has been holding kapehan (coffee) sessions where not only peace initiatives but also environmental concerns and sustainable agriculture are being discussed, Salazar said.

At the recently concluded MWOP celebrations, at least six kapehan sessions were conducted in different parts of the province.

For Aguja, she noted that peace advocates in General Santos were "to each is own" last year but not anymore now since the activities have been effectively coordinated by the Diocese of Marbel.

"Activities last year were disorganized. We would not know that this group had an activity geared towards the promotion of peace," she recalled.

She was visibly pleased that the coloring for peace contest, which involved children aged four to nine, was successful even without an intensive information campaign.

Many of those who participated in the event were walk-in clients of the mall
who were with their parents. The mall offered the venue for free.

Aguja said they targeted the kids to promote the culture of peace because "it is better to inculcate to their minds the value of peace while they are still young."

For both areas, the support of the business sector for the peace week was seemingly more intense as shown by the attendance of business leaders in an activity or streamers hanging in business establishments.

Ranking government and military leaders in the likes of Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto Mangudadatu, his father, first district Rep. Pax Mangudadatu and Maj. General Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the 6th Infantry "Kampilan" Division based in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan, took active part in the celebrations, manifesting their "inclination" for peace in Mindanao.

For Ferrer particularly, he participated in the bike for peace, along with several soldiers, pedaling a distance of around 100 kilometers from Cotabato City to Tacurong.

Some 500 bikers from other parts of Southwestern Mindanao participated in the activity.

"That was a long drive but we joined because we are observing the primacy of the peace process with the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front]," Ferrer told fellow bikers.

He gave assurances that the military under his command, which has jurisdiction over the Moro rebels' bailiwick in Mindanao such as Maguindanao, will continue to observe the ceasefire.

"The road to peace is long and hard. But we need to keep on pedaling to move forward to reach our destination, which is lasting and enduring peace," he said.

The theme of this year's MWOP is "Building Bridges of Peace With our Peace Officers."

Auxiliary Bishop Jose Collin Bagaforo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato hailed the larger participation this year of many sectors of society.

"We should always unite so we can achieve the peace we have been longing for. Everyone should have the fire in their hearts to quest for peace," Bagaforo said.

Gov. Mangudadatu believes that with an enduring peace, investors would start to come in to spark the full economic development of Mindanao.

On December 5, the culmination day of this year's MWOP celebrations, at least 12 non-government and people's organization in Sultan Kudarat committed support to peace overtures by forming themselves into a coalition.

The groups that threw their support to the creation of a coalition for peace include the PASKU, United Muslim Professionals for Peace and Development Association Inc., Tual Farmers' Multi-Purpose Cooperative, and Isulanen Peace and Development Inc.

The Laguilayan Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Greenland Farmers Association, Bangsamoro Women's Organization and the Tribal Council of Sultan Kudarat also supported the initiative. (MindaNews)