The gathering was initiated by the Peace Advocates of Sultan Kudarat (PASKU), a group formed in January this year. PASKU is the lead organizer of the celebrations of the 9th Mindanao Week of Peace across the province.
The groups that took part in the solidarity meeting are not only engaged in peace advocacies but also in development, education and inter-religious initiatives. Also present were Christian, Muslim and indigenous peoples as well as representatives from the business and farming sectors.
The solidarity day served as the culmination activity in Sultan Kudarat for the week-long peace celebrations themed “Building Bridges of Peace With our Peace Officers.” The Mindanao Week Of Peace (MWOP) starts every last Thursday of November and ends first Wednesday of December.
Among the reasons why civil society representatives in the province agreed to form a coalition for peace are to monitor the implementation of the government and MILF peace agreement once it is signed and to conduct awareness activities that would erase religious prejudices.
Sister Theresa Rose Salazar, PASKU president, said they organized the gathering with the support of the German Technical Cooperation, to unify their efforts towards peace.
“Ever since, we have not had a coalition that works to foster a culture of peace in our province,” the Oblates of Notre Dame nun said.
Abdullah Tempolok, president Peace and Development Advocates League – Sultan Kudarat, said having an umbrella organization of peace advocates in the province will strengthen the bid for a lasting peace in the island.
However, he suggested that development should also be given focus so that peace would be enduring.
“I believe that no one will carry a gun if he has food on the table, if he has a livelihood that keeps him busy,” said Tempolok, also known as Kumander Blanco, a former combatant of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Tempolok said the coalition will serve as the common voice of peace advocacy groups in the province, a stance supported by the business sector.
Bernard Haw, a representative from the Chinese-Filipino and Sultan Kudarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation Inc., said peace is imperative for the growth of the island.
“We are supporting this peace-building initiative as we also want to have a platform where many voices will be unified, thus a solid stand,” Haw said.
Haw said an education campaign is necessary to avoid confusion. He said talks about Sultan Kudarat’s inclusion in the future Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), as proposed in the government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiations, have to be clarified.
Some of the groups that threw their support behind the creation of a Coalition for Peace are the United Muslim Professionals for Peace and Development Association, Inc., and Tual Farmers’ Multi-Purpose Cooperative, 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.
The coalition has yet to agree on their name as of press time. Another meeting has been proposed to discuss how to run the group. (MindaNews)