Kauswagan: a time for war, a time for peace

“Pakigdait Inc. a non-government and interreligious institution is one of those organized to address the post-conflict effects to relationships of people in Kauswagan town and to revitalize the Muslim and Christian dialogue, to (temper) prejudices and biases revived by war,” explained Abel Moya, program manager.

Moya, who was in the conference room of the Mindanao Civic Center in Tubod town with leaders of the United Religious Initiative (URI) who are working together for interfaith cooperation in seven countries, said “we wish to inform the world that it is fundamental for peacebuilding to start in the area where the conflict started.”

“For the past years, we have sown peace and conflict management in Kauswagan town and then in all conflict-affected towns of the province until we became part of an international network of peacebuilders and interfaith workers,” he said.

The group looked into the roots of the Kauswagan problem and found it to be a conflict over land.

The rebels occupied the Kauswagan town hall, the military came, then President Estrada declared his “all-out war” against the MILF on March 21, 2000.

“Nine years since that all-out war and we know there are still so many things to do with this cycle of  sporadic violence in Lanao. But what is important for us is that we are all able to zero-in or segregate that this conflict isn’t religious in nature but is resource-based,” said Moya.

“True, there are milestones in our peace-building advocacies like other civil society organizations here but we know that peace becomes truly possible if resources are shared equitably and if conflicts on land are strategically addressed,” he said.

Although peacebuilders in Lanao are able to help rebuild ruined lives of residents and are able to dialogue with the owners of the 24-hectare land in Inudaran, the causes of overlapping claims  aren’t fully resolved yet.

While remembering the sad and frustrating effects of war,’ Lanao’s priests, nuns, government official, non-government leaders, brigade officials, and members of URI commemorated the all-out war declaration with a conference on “engaging the moral imagination in community dialogue and peace-building.”

The activity, facilitated by Marites Guingona-Africa of Peacemaker’s Circle, tackled “how peacebuilders could transcend the cycles of violence that bewitch our human community” inspired by Dr. John Paul Lederach, an expert on peacebuilding and reconciliation.

Participants to the conference were given copies of success stories relating to conflict-management in Ghana, Colombia and of Wajir district in Kenya.

They reflected on these stories and were later asked to share their stories within the following disciples and capacities: the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relations that includes our enemies; the ability to sustain a paradoxical curiosity that embraces complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity; the fundamental belief in and pursuit of the creative act and the acceptance of the inherent risk of stepping into the mystery of the  unknown that lies  beyond the far too familiar landscape of violence.

Col. Benito de Leon, commanding officer of the 104th Infantry Brigade, related about the difficulties he hurdled with the integration of the forces of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after the signing of the peace pact between the government and the MNLF in 1996.

“We had difficulty in the integration these Muslim forces into our fold. We thought of making them a separate unit while others thought of isolating them and
marking them so that it would be easy for us to contain them if they’d create havoc,” said de Leon who was also celebrating his 49th birthday, March 21.

Noting the high level of distrust, de Leon told other officers “if we are going to die; we will die all together.”

He said he took a risk in leading the MNLF integrees “that’s why they accorded me with the title Sultan because I am leading the integrated Moro forces as part of the initiative in this peace process and for showing the capacity to trust.”

Sister Carmen Hayrosa, who works for the Mercy Hospital, also related her frustration why her best friend who worked as English supervor of DepEd in Marawi City was shot dead years ago.

“It’s so cruel and it broke my heart. I cannot fathom why a man will just walk in to shoot her. I did not like the way she died,” she said.

Bishop Hilario Gomez of the Bishop Ulamah Conference (BUC)  related how “former enemies become friends,” citing his experience with former armed forces chief Hermogenes Esperon.

“We used to have an exchange of  (negative) emotions but one day I saw him. Esperon told me ‘Bishop, I am now a man of peace. Will you give me your blessings? And I did. From then on, we became friends,” Gomez said.

Governor Khalid Dimaporo, the country’s youngest governor, spoke about the conflict between Barracuda and Ilaga as a Muslim and Christian conflict on land ownership and its use.

“There was a serious political conflict too which was then responded to by the youth who were then calling for Muslim and Christian unity. Although in separate groups, these were led by youth leaders who are actually my father and my mother,” he said.

“That’s where my father and mother met; mother was courted by father and they got married. I am an offspring of such desire to unite the Muslims and Christians,” he said.

Khalid’s mother is Imelda Quibranza; his father is Abdullah.

“Thus, it’s my commitment to see Lanao work for peace to be able to see the unity of Muslims and Christians here. If we have goals, we have risks to face. There were realities on and off the camera. Without the camera, all of us are fuming and complaining against decisions of our national leaders but when the camera is on, we are all supportive and united with the government’s agenda,” he said.

“I had a deep talk with my father about the armed conflict here. Our foremost priority is the safety of the civilians. We may catch the ire of the MILF and come and fight with the civilians. If we oppose, we oppose it silently. We only hope for Congress to decide it and to oppose it in a plebiscite. My father advised that we will do things quietly,” he said, apparently referring to the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

“My family is tainted as a sympathizer of the MILF. These are risks that we must face and my father advised me to wear a skin of stone,” he said.

Alexander Ali, a municipal councilor of Baloi town related how “Muslim respected Jesus as a prophet after they watched a debate relating to the movie The Da Vinci Code.”

Africa emphasized: “we are caretakers, stewards of the earth, and human beings.”

“Our stories here are in fact saying that moral imagination is actually happening,” she added.

After many reflections, they all sang “What a Wonderful World.”

That evening, Hadji H. Samporna, mayor of Kauswagan town, was at the brigade camp to célèbre with de Leon.

“Kauswagan is peaceful now; the administrative problems will be settled peacefully too,” he said. (Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)