The violence has to stop.
We, the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW) call on the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to return to the negotiating table for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Mindanao.
We strongly condemn the bombings in Cotabato City and other parts of Mindanao. We urge a thorough and impartial investigation, mindful of the cloud of suspicion around previous bombings, that will lead to truth and justice.
We ask both sides of the GRP and the MILF to be mindful in issuing statements in the light of the recent bombing in Cotabato City which killed 5 civilians and injured 35 others, that could create division by projecting the war in Mindanao as religious in nature, when it is not. For several decades, the Moro, indigenous peoples and settlers in Mindanao have live together harmoniously.
Instead, GRP and the MILF should review their peace and security framework and operations to ensure the genuine interests and protection of the Mindanawans, especially their right to self determination and governance.
We also deplore the more quiet but pervasive and lingering violence of displacement being experienced by hundreds of Mindanao communities.
The Geneva based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported that more than 600,000 civilians were displaced from August to December last year after talks between the MILF and the government hit a snag over the non-signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.
As of June 25, according to the records of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a total of 71,662 families or 359,022 persons have yet to return home as of June 29, 2009 and of this number, 56,685 families or 286,542 persons are still in the evacuation centers or relatives’ houses.
They are cramped in evacuation centers and not spared from daily mortar shelling. Children make up almost 70 percent of the deaths in the war-torn communities.
We are also very alarmed over the recent pronouncement of the military that they view internally displaced persons as “reserve enemy force.”
International humanitarian law and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Displaced Persons clearly state that it is the primary responsibility of the State to protect the rights of the civilian population, especially women and children from being violated.
The GRP and the MILF must protect and uphold the rights of civilians. Both invoke the civilians’ welfare when they wage war against each other and also when they negotiate peace. They should immediately address the situation of the internally displaced persons, by guaranteeing their safety to return home and resume normalcy in their daily lives.
We also urge the GRP and the MILF to review and reactivate the ceasefire mechanisms that had previously been effective in lowering the levels of violence, In the meantime, they must take immediate steps to discipline their respective troops.
We offer ourselves to all parties in seeking that elusive platform where the stalled process can move forward . Mindanao Peaceweavers is a convergence of peace advocates in Mindanao. It currently represents the broadest network of peace constituency in the island cutting across non-government organizations, academe, religious, human rights groups, peoples organizations and grassroots communities.
Mindanao has suffered long enough. The lives of our children have been wasted.We pray that the GRP and the MILF find a common ground for ending the hostilities in Mindanao. There is no other way. The GRP and the MILF must sitdown and negotiate. Now.
Convenors and Secretariates:
Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRSMP)
Mindanao Peace Advocates Conference (MPAC)
Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC)
Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement (MPPM)
Mindanao Solidarity Network (MSN)
Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
Technical Assistance Center for the Development of the Rural and Urban
CBCS condemns the spate of bombings in Mindanao
The Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent spate of bombings in Mindanao and makes the following calls and clarifications:
* That a thorough investigation by a credible independent body be conducted on all incidents of bombing (July 4 in Datu Piang, Maguindanao; July 5 in Cotabato City; July 6 in Lanao del Norte; and July 7 in Jolo and Iligan City) to unmask the truth behind them (who perpetrated/masterminded them, for what motives/reasons, are they related to one another) and bring the culprits to justice;
* That responsible reporting be observed always by the media. The people of Mindanao cannot afford the Christian-Muslim killings of the 1970’s to resurface. After the Cotabato City blast, news reports have spread that give the impression that it was the cathedral that was bombed. To make it clear, the blast took place in a stall selling lechon across the cathedral compound. It totally wrecked the stall and also damaged a portion of a certain beerhouse. Nevertheless, this makes no excuse to bomb the place;
* That places of worship be spared from any form of violence and/or desecration. The blast in Jolo also happened near a church. We denounce the bombings in the same manner that we condemn acts by men in uniform who occupied mosques, urinated in them and/or desecrated them;
* That the immediate acts of finger-pointing be stopped to prevent further escalation of the conflict and to contain any possible public panic to pave the way for sobriety, as well as thoughts and actions that are reasonable and not solely driven by biases, emotions and preconceived notions that may be wrong;
* That all people should be accorded their human rights, including both victims and suspects. The incremental number of victims of human rights violations has long been alarming. No one should be another victim of human rights violation in pursuit of justice. Due process should always be observed in dealing with suspects to the bombing: one is innocent until proven guilty, not one is guilty until proven innocent;
* That groups of all faiths here in Mindanao be more vigilant and strengthen their unity and solidarity in the face of these bleak incidents. This is NOT a Muslim-Christian conflict. Let us clear our minds and fortify our greatest resolve not to allow these dastardly acts to successfully sow suspicion and animosity that could lead to conflict; and,
* That the peace panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front return to the negotiating table to solve the age-old Mindanao conflict. The problem of the Bangsamoro as an indigenous people is highly political that it can only be resolved through genuine political means and not through military operations. Quelling rebellion and bringing peace are two different things. The peace talks are the highest form of dialogue between the two parties. A final agreement between them could spell sustainable peace and development in the Bangsamoro homeland.
We join in consoling and comforting the families of the victims of the blasts, the more than half a million internally displaced persons who have also been further agonized by indiscriminate bombings in the very sites of evacuation, and other people who are victims of injustices.
Our prayers for the attainment of genuine peace and development.
Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
KFI Compound, Doña Pilar Street, Poblacion IV
9600 Cotabato City, Philippines
Telefax No.: +63 (064) 421-5420
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
The State of the Bakwits (S.O.B.), a joint coverage of Mindanao and Manila journalists held on June 29 to July 1, 2009 was intended to focus public attention on a humanitarian tragedy that we believe has not been given the attention it deserves.
Coming from amedia ein Mindanao and Manila, we issue this collective statement in view of the disturbing checkpoint incident on June 30 and certain pronouncements of the 6th Infantry Division’s spokesperson about the organizers and participating journalists.
The coverage was prompted by persistent and alarming reports of alleged human rights violations like food blockades, illegal arrests, disappearances and summary executions; and that non-government and humanitarian organizations, even media, were also reportedly being prohibited from going to evacuation centers presumably to protect them from hostilities between government troops and rebel forces.
We came to validate these reports and to get a solid grasp of the actual situation in the evacuation centers so that concerned authorities will be able to appreciate more fully, and respond appropriately to, the complex problem of internal displacement in Maguindanao.
We found some of the answers even before reaching the evacuation centers.
On Tuesday, June 30, as we were proceeding to the evacuation sites in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, soldiers of the Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion stopped us along the Cotabato-General Santos highway in Barangay Bagan, Guindulungan.
Those in the lead car of our nine-vehicle convoy were asked if we were from the media. Not one of the soldiers could tell us why we were being held. All they could say was we would be “released” when they receive “clearance” from Colonel Medardo Geslani, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade.
When contacted within the first five minutes of what turned out to be a 46-minute standoff, Geslani’s superior, Maj. Gen. Alfredo Cayton, commanding general of the 6th Infantry Division, said he would check with Geslani. Cayton said he was informed by Geslani that he ordered the journalists stopped because of ongoing “clearing operations” to ensure our safety from roadside bombs.
A day earlier, an improvised explosive device blew off in Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, killing two persons and injuring eight others.
The checkpoint personnel said nothing about “clearing operations.” Curiously, it was just the media vehicles that were stopped at the checkpoint.
If, indeed, there were IEDs on the roadside, why should media be given ‘preferential protection’?
And if, indeed, security was the main consideration, they could have notified us even before we had left Cotabato City for Maguindanao since the organizers had been coordinating with the military panel of resource persons who confirmed participation in the subsequent forum in the afternoon of June 30.
We also would like to correct pronouncements made by the spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Ponce, who sent out text messages to reporters claiming that the journalists who were participating in the State of the Bakwits coverage were given “pocket money” by one of the organizations involved, which he alleged was connected to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The invitation clearly states who the organizers are.
Efforts to discredit our coverage by attempting to discredit the organizing groups will not be viewed kindly by the public especially since the case of the bakwits is a matter of national and international interest. For did we not rank first among all countries for having the “biggest new displacement in the world,” contributing 600,000 to the 4.2 million total of newly displaced in 2008, according to the April 2009 report of Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre?
We assert that trying to mask the magnitude of this crisis by stifling the free flow of information and the people’s right to know can only worsen the current problem.
We agree with, and appreciate the statements of both the government and MILF peace panels during separate interactions with us, that the peace process should be accompanied by transparency.
We also believe that the achievement of a just and lasting negotiated resolution to the generations-old conflict besetting the Bangsamoro is possible only when all stakeholders are granted adequate access to information about and participation in the peace process.
This is why we are saddened that there remain elements of government who are trying to curtail access to information about the problems plaguing the Bangsamoro and the roots of the age-old conflict that continues to cause so much suffering, as well as vilify those who seek to uncover the truth surrounding the situation and explain these to the people.
This much we have learned from our experience as a people who lived through and eventually overcame 14 years of dictatorship: you can neither hide the truth forever nor allow it to be hidden.
ANY MORE ATTEMPT TO CURTAIL OR CONTROL THE FLOW OF INFORMATION VITAL TO THE PEOPLE’S UNDERSTANDING OF THIS CONFLICT, WILL DEFINITELY NOT SERVE THE CAUSE OF PEACE.
FR. EDUARDO VASQUEZ, OMI
Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD)
MA. AURORA FAJARDO
Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON)
Secretariat, SOB Coverage Mission
Mobile phone 09209546793