From the Philippine Star (Sep 21): Ex-MNLF rebels build school in Maguindanao
A 79-year-old former Moro National Liberation Front guerilla, Sidik, receives a sleeping mat from Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu (2nd from left) during a special outreach mission of the provincial government and Army officials led by Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz of the 6th Infantry Division (right). JOHN UNSON
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - A group of farmers who fought the government for more than 30 years under the banner of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are calmly constructing, alongside Army carpenters, a school building in a remote barangay in the province.
The two-classroom building for the Arabic school Madrasan Tarbiyah Al-Islamiya in Barangay Kulasi in Gen. Pendatun town was jointly launched Saturday by Muslim villagers, some of them supporters of Nur Misuari, Army Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz of the 6th Infantry Division, and Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.
The participation of Gapuz and Mangudadatu in the launching of the project shows that the government’s “convergence approach” in addressing security concerns is, by far, the easiest way to hasten in bringing prosperity to underdeveloped Moro communities.
Villagers and soldiers have began digging 30-inch deep trenches for the concrete foundation of the building. The office of the governor has initially allocated P400,000 for the project.
The event, witnessed by Col. Edmund Pangilinan of the 604th Brigade, was capped with the distribution of sleeping mats, blankets and mosquito nets to Moro villagers, who also availed of free dental and medical services provided by Army medics and a team from the provincial government.
A former MNLF guerilla named Sidik, 79, was among the more than 500 villagers who received the non-food relief supplies.
Sidik told reporters he has been wishing, if only he can have a way, to tell followers of Misuari fighting soldiers on the streets of Zamboanga City to go home to their families.
“I’m old and I’m not influential. I’m just a poor man, but maybe I can help make them realize that war can never be a good option in any advocacy meant to improve the life of Moro people,” the old former MNLF combatant said in the local dialect.
Gapuz, who addressed residents of Barangay Kulasi, had emphasized the importance of peaceful dialogues in resolving domestic peace and security issues.
Gapuz lauded Mangudadatu and Gen. Pendatun’s incumbent mayor, Shajid Khan Pendatun, for reaching out to residents of the barangay, where there are also hundreds of supporters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Mangudadatu said the school building to be built at the center of Barangay Kulasi will be a good venue for teaching children of local farmers “peace education” based on Islamic principles of fraternalism, tolerance and unity in religious diversity.
Lynette Estandarte, chief budget officer of the governor’s office, said they still have more programmed socio-economic projects for far-flung areas whose people were made poor by armed conflicts in the province.
Estandarte and her staff had distributed more than 20 boxes of medicines for common ailments, antibiotics and multi-vitamins to residents of Barangay Kulasi.
Mangudadatu and Gapuz both said they are grateful to Maguindanao’s community leaders, the local officials in its 36 towns, the central committee of the MILF and groups identified with Misuari for their continuing effort to prevent any spill over to the province of the hostilities in Zamboanga City.
There are more than ten groups of Misuari’s followers in Maguindanao, but all have just been standing down amid the armed conflict raging in Zamboanga City. Their leaders have promised Gapuz, through the intercession of the provincial peace and order council, not to embark on anything that can create trouble in any of the 36 towns in the province.