Governor Mohammad Khalid Dimaporo kicked off the celebration with a press conference at the Macapagal Training Center, at the provincial capitol here.
He said civil society should lead in peace advocacy because it has the credibility and “moral compass,” adding there would be misinterpretations if the local government would be the one to espouse it.
Some towns of Lanao del Norte were attacked the past years by the MILF, Maigo in 2003, and Kolambugan and Kauswagan in 2008. Kauswagan was also attacked in 2000, prompting deposed president Joseph Estrada's declaration of an "all-out war."
The attacks led to mass evacuations, destruction of property and deaths of civilians.
Kolambugan, with the assistance of Ecoweb Inc., responded to the raids by organizing their barangay tanods as “conflict managers” in the area.
Dimaporo admitted he was not familiar with the historical context [of the attacks], saying her mother, former governor Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo, did not relate to him her experiences.
Musa Sanguila of Pakigdait Inc. said the province has declared March as “month of peace”.
This year’s month of peace celebration carries the theme “Lanao del Norte: Rising Above the Challenges.”
He said the activities will include games for peace, forum, and walk/convergence for peace.
He also said that as a partner of Global Interfaith Network, Pakigdait Inc. will host the regional council meeting of the United Religious Initiative of Southeast Asia and Pacific (URI-SEAPac) as the highlight of the celebration.
A “Governor’s Night” will be held on March 16 to welcome all delegates to the conference, at the Mindanao Civic Center in Sagadan, Tubod.
Fr. Teresita Suganob of the Prelature of Marawi who has been working for “dialogue of life and faith,” and Gamal Mamangcao, a Muslim leader of Ranaw Muslim-Christian Movement for Peace and Dialogue, also came.
Col. Benito de Leon, commanding officer of the 104th Infantry Brigade, who was also at the conference, expressed support for peace initiatives in the area.
“My forces and units will support and ensure that peace is attained and we will allow civil society to determine the aspiration of the people in this place,” De Leon said.
De Leon came with Capt. Adam Martin, military consultant from the United States, whom Sanguila dubbed “a newfound partner for peace.”
“We are supportive of the Philippine Army and for the development of this country.”
Martin, who came to the country with other US soldiers for military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), said.
He told MindaNews he was also assigned to Iraq to take part in that country’s post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction effort.
He said they are willing to offer assistance to local government units upon request.
He reiterated US military pronouncements that “we do not participa
te in combat operations.”
Martin, along with other US trainers, taught junior officers of the 104th IB a crash course on public relations which ended Friday.
De Leon explained the US army’s presence is part of the kapit bisig program of the two countries.
He, however, admitted that [the American military] is also involved in anti-terrorism operations, in particular against the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Abu Sayyaf.
“Part of their peace-building initiatives in Lanao is the construction of school buildings and to help local residents improve their health through medical and dental missions,” he added.
Dimaporo called US military presence in Lanao an insurance for security.
The governor called on the MILF to observe the international laws of warfare so as to spare the non-combatants. He said respecting the rules of war is consistent with the teachings of the Koran.
Sanguila said that they invited Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and Secretary Avelino Razon of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to one of the activities of the celebration. (Violeta M.Gloria/MindaNews)