ALEOSAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 26 March) – On the eve of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday (March 27), local government officials of this former embattled town have mixed feelings.
Mayor Vicente Sorupia said he is supportive of the peace deal and hoping that it will put an end to the years of conflict that led to the displacement of his constituents in the previous wars.
But for Vice Mayor Eduardo Cabaya, his childhood experiences in the hands of Moro rebels have left a deep scar in his heart and mind, making him worried than hopeful in the signing of the peace deal.
Sorupia recounted how the people suffered in the evacuation centers in times of war and how war affected the livelihood of the civilians.
The mayor said he is hoping that the peace agreement would change the image of his town, which had been the battleground of the government forces and Moro fighters in the past.
“Before, we were perceived as a very chaotic place. But now we harmoniously coexist with our brothers Lumads and Muslims. Of course this does not mean a hundred-percent peace. But we cannot achieve peace by fighting each other,” Sorupia noted.
Worried than hopeful
Cabaya, who grew up in Barangay Bagolibas, told MindaNews that he is never hopeful that the CAB will absolutely bring peace in Mindanao.
The proposed Bangsamoro government, he said, may not even succeed, adding that he is cynical that the MILF can lead their people.
He fears that some Moro rebels would tend to abuse their power once they will be running the Bangsamoro government.
“I have seen the abuses of these rebels since I was a kid. It has left a deep scar in my heart, in the hearts of the people in Aleosan. They have shown abuses in the past, how much more when they will be in power?” asked Cabaya, who had led members of local militias in the frontlines during the war in 2008.
He was then the village chief of Bagolibas when former MILF commander and now Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commander Ameril Umra Kato attacked the village in August 2008.
Kato and his men went on a rampage after the failed signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). The war displaced over half million people after it spilled in different parts of Mindanao.
Cabaya cited the peace pact between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), saying that the Moro group had already failed to govern its people.
He noted that following the peace pact in 1996, billions of pesos have been poured in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but failed to improve the lives of the people, and peace remains unstable.
In his childhood years, Cabaya recalled, the people in his town were not armed.
“We were forced to arm ourselves because the Moro rebels were very abusive. There were times that we could not eat our breakfast because they were already strafing our houses early in the morning. Our coffee and rice would mix up because we scampered for cover while eating our breakfast,” he recounted, holding back tears.
He admitted that recalling his childhood would still make him emotional even during public forums.
Bagolibas, which sits in the periphery of this town, was a battleground in the war between the military and Moro rebels.
Cabaya said Moro rebels had strafed his uncles and cousins while working on their farms, but fortunately none were hit.
He said his family had evacuated dozens of times, blood sometimes dripping from the wounds in his feet as they fled on board a carabao sled. “I was about five years old then. How could I just forget that?” he asked.
While he hopes that this would never happen again to his children, Cabaya admitted that he is still wary of the other Moro rebel groups. “What about the BIFF and the MNLF? They are still armed.” he warned.
“For me, to achieve peace is to either disarm all people in Mindanao or to arm everyone so that nobody would take advantage of each other,” Cabaya said.