Bishop, 300 others bike to massacre site, sign covenant on Spaces for Peace

AMPATUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews/30 November) – Bishop Colin Bagaforo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato  led some 300 bikers and motorcycle riders Monday, in a visit to the site of the November 23, 2009  Ampatuan Massacre, where they signed a Covenant on the creation of Spaces for Peace.

Catholics, Muslims and members of Christian churches assembled at the Cotabato City plaza at around 4:30 a.m. Monday for the “Motorsiklo at Bisekleta Para sa Kapayapaan” (Motorcycle and Bicycle for Peace) in observance of the 12th Mindanao Week Of Peace.

The participants biked all the way to Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao, some 60 kilometers away, arriving there at around 9:30 a.m.

Prayers were immediately said at the site where 58 persons were massacred on November 23, 2009 by armed men allegedly led by then Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., who was going to run for governor of Maguindanao. The perpetrators also dug up three mass graves using a backhoe and buried the victims there, along with three vehicles that were crushed by the backhoe, in an apparent bid to bury the evidences of their dastardly act.

But not all victims or vehicles were buried because by 3 p.m. the news about the killings had been aired repeatedly nationwide, soldiers were approaching the area and a helicopter owned by the Mangudadatus.

Of the 58,  53 were in a convoy from Buluan, Maguindanao. Five passengers of two vehicles were not part of the convoy but happened to pass at the wrong time and were also killed.

The convoy from Buluan was en route to Shariff Aguak, the next town after Ampatuan, to file before the provincial office of the Commission on Elections, the certificate of candidacy for governor  of then Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. Mangudadatu, a former ally of the Ampatuans, was warned by the latter against running for governor. He was supposed to file the certificate himself but was prevailed upon by his mother who suggested that the women be sent instead, thinking that no harm would come to them.

In the convoy was Mangudadatu’s wife, Genalyn, his two sisters and aunts and other relatives and two female lawyers.

Bishop Bagaforo said “we can only gain a wider space for peace if we start with ourselves, family and small groups we are dealing with everyday.”

After the brief rites, participants signed a Covenant on the Creation of  Spaces for Peace.

The covenant spells out the mechanisms where institutions and organizations can observe, promote, establish, strengthen and protect at all cost the Spaces for Peace in Mindanao.

The Spaces for Peace are classified as follows: Buildings of Peace, Seasons of Peace and Vehicles of Peace.

The Buildings of Peace are media offices/buildings, schools, mosques, churches, all schools, hospitals/health care centers/clinics, boticas/pharmacies, light and power plants, market places, transport terminals.

The Seasons of Peace are tribal and religious celebrations, Ramadan, Christmas, Holy Week, fiestas, foundation anniversaries, market days, graduation exercises.

The Vehicles of Peace are ambulances, fire trucks, relief/rescue cars, Red Cross, Red Crescent, humanitarian operation cars, press/media cars, public transports: land, sea, air)

Soldiers also participated in the bike for peace.

Col. Mayo dela Cruz, chief of the 1st Mechanized Battalion stationed in the former Maguindanao capitol in Shariff Aguak, said he hopes to see “more colorful bikers roaming peacefully around here in Maguindanao instead of firearms, armaments and tanks. We, soldiers, also seek peace for this land.”

For Senior Superintendents Marcelo Pintac and Willie Dangane, who also joined the activity, there is a big reason to celebrate.

They were the first police officers who reached the site on November 23 a year ago.

“It should not happen again. We, police officers, won’t allow anymore any politician to dictate on our duty to the people”, Dangane said.

“No more lives should be sacrificed … in Maguindanao,” said a biker. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)