“Peace is for Everyone” book of Bangsamoro stories: read, weep, hope

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews /14 July) – “A very good book… I could not help but cry when I started reading the stories,’’ Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said at the launch Wednesday of “Peace is for Everyone: Bangsamoro Stories of Hope, Survival, Pain and Resilience.”

PEACE IS FOR EVERYONE. Emma Leslie (right) of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CPCS) and Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (beside her) and the research team of the book, “Peace is for Everyone: Bangsamoro Stories of Hope, Survival, Pain and Resilience” which was launched in Cotabato City on July 13, 2016. . MindaNews photo by GG BUENO
PEACE IS FOR EVERYONE. Emma Leslie (right) of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CPCS) and Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (beside her) and the research team of the book, “Peace is for Everyone: Bangsamoro Stories of Hope, Survival, Pain and Resilience” which was launched in Cotabato City on July 13, 2016. . MindaNews photo by GG BUENO

The 96-page book is a collection personal testimonies of some 300 survivors of massacres in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur, and the cities of Marawi, Iligan, Cotabato and Isabela.

These are narratives from the communities are not only about the horrors that they experienced but also about their “hopes for a peaceful, better and more harmonious future.”

Alamia said the stories in the book are a “reflection of stories of every Bangsamoro.”

“All of us have experienced how it is to be displaced, how it is to be in community that has been massacred, in a community that has been hurting for decades,” she said, adding the book is “one way of easing the pain… for all the atrocities committed against the Bangsamoro.”

She hopes the book can help stop the cycle of violence, the intergenerational violence that the Bangsamoro people have been experiencing, as she acknowledged “di pa rin tapos itong violence na ito, pain na ito” (This violence, this pain is not yet over), Alamia said.
Earlier in the morning, in Barangay Meta, Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, a 15-year old girl name Fatima Elian was killed by stray bullets in a clash between the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and government forces.

5 chapters, 5 kinds of stories

A project of the Cotabato City-based Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS) and the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) in Cambodia, the book contains five chapters representing stories “of the past, before the conflict,” of “suffering, pain, dispossession and dislocation,” of “resilience and resistance,” of “the reaction to the events around them” and of “hope, generosity and longing for peace.”

At the launching venue in Ebrahim Hall in Em Manor hotel, two women survivors of massacres spoke in Maguindanaon about what happened — Fatima Nagli, on the June 19, 1971 massaacre in Manila, Carmen, North Cotabato where some 70 residents were killed in a mosque and Samsiya Taja on the September 24, 1974 massacre in Malisbong, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat where some 1,500 residents were also killed in a mosque.

On the 40th anniversary in 2014, then Commission on Human Rights acknowledged the victims as martial law victims. CHR personnel facilitated the filing of the claims with the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board and then CHR chair Loretta Ann Rosales visited the area.
In her welcome remarks, Emma Leslie, CPCS Executive Director, said of the Bangsamoro: “You are people who have lived in this land for generations, you are people who have suffered, you are people who have been massacred, you are people who have been targeted and victimized for decades. But that is not just what this story is about. You are equally people who have showed resilience, you are people who have resisted, you are people who stood up and said that this is not OK, and that is what this book is about,” she said.

“Peace History” approach

Leslie later told MindaNews while the book’s aim was to collect the stories of survivors of massacres, “what was interesting is that they had much more to say than just about the massacres.”

The book, according to the Introduction, used a “Peace History” approach which looks at the “intersection between personal experiences and collective accounts” and that by “weaving together individual stories, we aim to present a complex, nuanced, rich description of shared experiences,” as well as a diversity of opinions and sentiments about the future following the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014.

Mo Bleeker, Special Envoy of the Swiss Foreign Ministry on Dealing with the Past and Prevention of Atrocities, and chair of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) in the GPH-MILF peace process said the book “bears witnesses to the urgent and essential need and obligation to build a lasting peace for the Moro community and the entire Philippine nation.”

Bleeker said coming to terms with the past is “essential to building the foundations for a just and lasting future peace” and she hopes that the report of the TJRC which was submitted to the government early this year, will be read and that its recommendations “in particular the establishment of a historical commission of historical memory – will be put into practice.
“Peace is what is needed now. Peace cannot wait any longer,” she said.

Raissa Jajurie, TJRC Project Consultant who spoke on behalf of the TJRC’s Ishak Mastura at the launch, echoed the need to bring the TJRC’s recommendations to fruition.

“Certainly, having initiatives such as ‘Peace is for Everyone’ is a welcome first step towards ensuring that we do not lose our historical memory and that we use them towards reconciliation and healing.

Leslie, a member of the International Contact Group in the GPH-MILF peace process,

explained that the book does not offer any recommendation and is not a tool for people to go around and start lobbying for changes in government policy but is “a tool for you to start dialogue.”
She noted a major learning from the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano Tragedy that left 66 persons killed – 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police, 17 from the MILF and five civilians – that “in Manila, in Northern Luzon, in the Visayas, they still do not fully understand the story of the Bangsamoro. And we need to use this book, not as a tool for meeting people, but start a dialogue, and for people to accept that the narrative of the Bagsamoro is real.”

While celebrating resilience, Leslie said “today is also the day to remind the new administration that such fortitude, strength, hospitality should not be taken advantage of. People cannot wait for peace and justice forever. This new administration will be well advised to understand that the historical injustices must be addressed now. The time is now. It cannot wait forever.”

The narratives in the book are accompanied by colored photographs of survivors taken by journalist Karlos Manlupig.

Leslie urged the audience to “please embrace this book, share it, take it everywhere you go; read the stories; tell your children and your grandchildren, and let us carry forward and honor those who survived, those who were resilient; demand peace and nothing else.”

Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, IBS Executive Director opted to speak in Maguindanaon in his closing remarks. He talked about the importance of documenting the Bangsamoro experience “as evidence that the Bangsamoro narrative is real.”

The book was launched at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City on July 12 and will be launched in Manila soon.
A PDF of the book can be downloaded from http://www.centrepeaceconflictstudies.org/peace-is-for-everyone-bangsamoro-stories-of-hope-survival-pain-and-resilience/. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)