Army peace advocate to Bantay Ceasefire: Make our voice of peace louder

He cited the Bakwit Power in 2003 where thousands of civilians demanded for both the Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to stop the fighting that displaced over 80,000 people.

"The Bantay Ceasefire has done big things, especially in 2003 when they, including children, women and the aged, marched to the streets," he said.

"That expression of support for peace caused the bilateral ceasefire," Soria added as he expressed his belief "that there is one thing that unites us together—which is the desire for peace in Mindanao."

"For me, I am looking forward to the day when the Bantay Ceasefire can be called Bantay Kapayapaan or Bantay Kaunlaran. You should not only focus on the ceasefire but transcend beyond it and work for development. We have to work for the transformation of ceasefire into total peace," Soria said.

The Bantay Ceasefire cluster assembly was first of a series that will be followed by similar gatherings in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Basilan.

The assembly was participated in by around 100 volunteers from this town, Carmen, Pagalungan and Midsayap, coming from communities affected by the war. They assessed the situation on the ground which was made the basis of an action plan that they have designed.

Appeasing apprehensions of the Bantay Ceasefire volunteers on the possibility of renewed armed skirmishes between government troopers and MILF fighters, Soria said "the pull-back of Malaysians should not be viewed negatively but an opportunity for us Filipinos to show our maturity to face and solve our problem on our own."

Manny Sulaic, the barangay chairman of Lagundi, one of the seven barangays that comprise the Zone of Peace here, has reported that the situation in Pikit "is normal but could anytime become abnormal."

Sulaic, also a Bantay Ceasefire volunteer, explained that with the pull-out of the Malaysian contingents to the International Monitoring Team (IMT), "people are apprehensive of another war, especially because the peace talks have not been moving."

"The BIAF (the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces) are just there and the government forces know where they are. Therefore, war is always a possibility with the apparent collapse in the peace process," he said.

Allying the fears of the Bantay Ceasefire, Soria said "they (Malaysians) will still continue to facilitate the peace talks."

He also said that a shooting war within his area of jurisdiction is a remote possibility, banking on his "open communications" policy.

"In the AOR (area of responsibility) of 602IB the MILF is not a big problem. Our problem is rido (family feud)," Soria said as he also reported that the culture of peace trainings that his men were undertaking has made them more tolerant of the movements of MILF forces.

"Before, we use to immediately react when we hear reports of rebel troop movements. Today, we emphasize and exhaust coordination. That is why an open communication line is really very important," he said.