Cotabato peace zone marks 17th year

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/16 February) – A village in North Cotabato that became a war zone during the Martial Law years yesterday celebrated its 17th year as a ‘sanctuary of peace.’

Sitio Alimodian in barangay Banayal, Tulunan town was one of four embattled areas declared on February 15, 1992 as ‘sanctuaries of peace’ or ‘peace zones’.

From the early 80s up to the late 90s, Tulunan became a battleground between the New People’s Army (NPA) and government soldiers, which led to the evacuation of thousands of villagers, mostly B’laan natives and Ilonggo settlers.

The town hogged the headlines after the killing, in 1985, of Italian missionary Tulio Favali, who was shot dead by a group of Ilaga cultists who reportedly ate his brains afterwards.

Armed fighting and government neglect beset the areas for so long a time. There were then no schools, infrastructure and other basic services.

But urgent calls by residents to spare them from the fighting led the Diocese of Kidapawan to spearhead the move to declare these areas as ‘zones of peace’.  

The Declaration of Zones of Peace in Tulunan provides that no member of the military and NPA shall enter the areas with their firearms.

In November 2005, Cotabato 1st district Rep. Lala Talinio-Mendoza sponsored a resolution in Congress supporting the peace-building initiatives in Tulunan, in particular the ‘sanctuaries of peace’.

She authored House Resolution Number 0981, which recognized and commended the newly created “tri-boundary sanctuary of peace and development” of three groups of people in the boundary of Tulunan in North Cotabato, Datu Paglas in Maguindanao, and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

The B’laans in Columbio, the Maguindanaons in Datu Paglas, and the Ilonggo settlers in Tulunan inked a community peace agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the area, Mendoza said.

“We need to strengthen peace building efforts in Mindanao, like the Peace Zone in Sitio Alimodian and in other areas in Mindanao. Everybody gains from building peace. I urged concerned agencies to support and provide necessary assistance in sustaining these grassroots-peace initiatives,” the legislator, who joined Sunday’s commemoration of the peace zone declaration, said.

Tulunan Mayor Lani Candolada said the fighting should end so that healing could take place.

“There is so much pain and trauma brought about by wars,” she said.

One of the villagers still hounded by the wars is 70-year old Prudencio Capalla, a member of the Sitio Alimodian Peace Zone council.

Capalla lost two of his children during the wars in Tulunan. One was hit by a stray bullet and the other died of malaria in an evacuation center of the town.

When Alimodian was declared a peace zone in 1992, Capalla was among those that benefited from it.

“I started plowing our field.  My children had gone back to school,” he said.

Capalla said he is hoping both from the military and the rebels would respect the peace declaration.

“I no longer want bloodshed in my place. I want peace. If there are again abuses from those in authority, we are giving the NPA rebels reasons to multiply or increase in number,” he said in his native dialect. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)