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JANUARY 13, 2008
Ref: Abdulbasit R. "bobby" Benito

Civil Society Organizations Mass Rally for Peace in General Santos City

General Santos City- January 10, 2008. Sympathy and frustration was reflected in the eyes of some 20,000 people notwithstanding the scorching sun as they participated in an interfaith mass action which started with a march for peace from Queen Tuna Park to the Freedom Park and ended with an interfaith and prayer rally here.

The rally was the third leg of a series of peace rallies in Mindanao organized by the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) that kicked off at Cotabato City in January 7, 2008 to pressure the Philippine Government to sincerely engage with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and go back to the negotiating table and sign and eventually implement an final peace agreement, as well as truthfully keep its word with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in implementing the second phase of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

The March-rally was scheduled to start at 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon. However, the trucks that carried participants from the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and South Cotabato started to arrive at 9:00am, making the assembly area at Queen Tuna Park jam-packed even before 12:00 noon. Some of the people were forced to walk to the much wider Freedom Park earlier than the scheduled march proper to accommodate the large crowd of peace advocates.

General Santos City bombings and other random incidents in SOCSKSARGEN has consistently caught the attention of the media and the general public. The interfaith and peace rally also commemorated the 1 st year anniversary of the GenSan Lotto Outlet bombing incident which killed six civilians and injured 36 others.

"We don't want bombings in SOCSKSARGEN anymore!" said Oscar Solaiman, the CBCS-Rajah Buayan Regional Management Committee (CBCS-RBRMC) Chairmperson. "SOCSKSARGEN is now a haven of peace" he furthered, attributing mainly this state of peace to three factors, "emergence of strong local leaders, protection from both the police and the military, and the present gains of the peace processes".

But due to the recently "stalled peace talks, hopes were suddenly replaced by fears", Solaiman added, referring to the cancellation of the anticipated signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on the issue of ancestral domain between the MILF and the GRP that was supposed to take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 15-17, 2007.

Solaiman contended that the clamor of the MNLF to the unaccomplished review the 1996 Final Peace Accord with the Government "adds to the obstacles of the Bangsamoro People to achieve genuine peace".

"The peaceful lives of the Bangsamoro were shattered by the tremors brought about by the coming of the colonizers" said Sammy Maulana, CBCS Secretary General during his speech. "We are not begging anything from the Government, we just want to regain our homeland and restore our inalienable rights to self determination, both as people and a nation".

Most of the misery expressed was focused on the vacillating stance of the GRP in non-conforming to hard-earned consensus points on the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that was prior agreed upon with the MILF. "The GRP has to demonstrate integrity by honoring the consensus points", said Anwar Saluwang of the United Youth of the Philippines for Peace in Development (UNYPAD).

The frailty of the Government to bequeath its political will is viewed as the core barrier that impinges the realization of the peace processes in Mindanao.

Pastor Frank Bantilan, a Lumad religious leader from Sarangani Province, together with other B'laans, said that they are distressed by the sudden impasse of the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF. "Muslims and Lumads are more than brothers" "we feel no different pain" he said with conviction.

"Tri-People", the term commonly associated with SOCSKSARGEN is mainly due to the existence of diverse tribes belonging to the Indigenous People, Christian and Muslims. "This is not a time for war" he uttered calling for stronger unity between the Lumads and Muslims.

In a Position paper, the Moro CSOs and other non-Moro supporters pointed out that "the most civilized and acceptable way to resolve conflict is through negotiation". And the best way for a negotiation to succeed is "sincerity, honesty and political will".

These positions were fervently made known by the CSOs: "The real implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the MNLF and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), the restoration of the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF, and for the Government to bestow its 'political will' towards the realization of the peace processes".

Along with these points is the condemning of bombing incidents and any form of terrorist acts that had taken the lives of many innocent civilians, whether Muslim or Christian, in SOCSKSARGEN. The rally ended with a plea for the souls of those who died in the bombings that had brought fear to the hearts of SOCSKSARGEN, with the hope that it will never happen again.

The CBCS is now preparing for the next legs of this series of peace rallies in Mindanao within the month in Basilan, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Sulu that is expected to draw together the concerned groups and sectors in these regions to continue the call for genuine peace in Mindanao.

If you are NEUTRAL in the situation of INJUSTICE, then you have chosen the side of the OPPRESSOR.


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