From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 21): After almost 17 years of war, GPH and MILF panel chairs set foot again in Camp Abubakar
It was a historic coincidence, as World Bank representative Matthew Stephens noted, that in the 11-year operation of the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF), it was only in Barira, Maguindanao that both heads of the peace panels of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) came together to grace the turnover of MTF projects, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said in a release issued Saturday.
“This is very symbolic that, after almost 17 years after the all-out war, both panels came together here to show their support for peace and their commitment for development,” Stephens said last Jan. 17 during the turnover of a PHP2.35 million Level II Water System; 120 cattle-dispersal livelihood project for women; and the completion ceremony of 70 basic literacy learners of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) under the MTF’s camps transformation program in Camp Abubakar, Brgy. Tugaig in Barira, Maguindanao.
Government Implementing Panel for the Bangsamoro Peace Accords chairperson Irene Santiago also reminisced that it was almost 17 years ago when she first set foot in Camp Abubakar, along with eight other women peace advocates to meet the late MILF chairman Salamat Hashim and try to persuade the MILF, as well as the Estrada government, to prevent the bloody all-out war in 2000 from happening.
“I think April yun, of course, maalala niyo kasi kayo yung naapektuhan ng mas malaki (I think it was April, of course, you will remember because you were the most affected here),” Santiago said.
“It was different then. We passed roads with big rocks. It was not yet cemented.”
In 2001 up to 2004, Santiago became a member of the peace panel negotiating with the MILF.
“I am not new with your struggle, I have been with you since 1977,” Santiago said as she expressed her joy upon seeing many women graduating from the ALS as she has been organizing Muslim women and serving Muslim communities all over Mindanao since 1977.
Incidentally, it is also the first time for MILF Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal to set foot again in Camp Abubakar since the 2000 war.
“Ito ang unang pagpunta ko dito (This is my first time to come here) for almost 17 years. The last time was on 24 April 2000 when we had a briefing with the late chairman Salamat Hashim,” Iqbal recalled.
The government implementing panel chair further emphasized the need to transform former MILF camps into normal, productive communities.
“I have just asked a graduate here on what she wants to be and she answered me she wants to be a teacher, but when I asked again if she wanted to become a lawyer she answered me ‘yes’,” Santiago said, sharing her conversation with one of the women ALS graduates.
“That is the reason why we came here: to give you equal opportunities to dream as high as the others. That is what we mean by normal -- to dream what you really want to reach and not to think that it is hard because you are living in Moro communities.”
She urged the community never to lose hope, saying that if there is hope, there will be peace.
Iqbal, for his part, called on the community to “take ownership” and treasure the projects because development needs intervention from the people themselves, citing verses form the Holy Qur’an:
“Allah (SWT) does not change the conditions of the people unless they change what is in their hearts... Man shall have nothing than what he strives for.”
“The government has been helping so much, we cannot deny that, but it cannot be complete if we do not help ourselves,” he said.
As part of the confidence-building measures enumerated in the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the government and MILF agreed to undertake necessary measures for the transformation of the six previously acknowledged MILF camps, namely: Camps Abubakar-as-Siddique, Omar, Rajamuda, Badre, Bushra, and Bilal.
The Joint Task Forces on Camps Transformation, with representatives from both the GPH and MILF, coordinate and facilitate development programs for these camps.
The MTF is a multi-donor grant facility established in 2005 to consolidate international development assistance for the socio-economic recovery of conflict-affected communities in Mindanao.
It funds programs and projects that promote economic opportunity, provide access to basic services, and build social cohesion to help create stable and secure communities. The facility is administered by the World Bank.