SocSarGen tri-people leaders hold peace and development dialogue with AFP
by Art Tariman
General Santos City (September 11) -- The importance of continuous and frequent social dialogue among stakeholders for peace and development in Mindanao was reemphasized when more than 50 tri-people leaders - Christians, Muslims and tribal alike - from allover the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani, General Santos City or SOCSARGEN area met at Camp Herminigildo A. Agaab, Jr. in Barangay Pulatana, Saturday morning.
The three-hour time allotted for the SOCSARGEN Tri-People Leaders Dialog on Peace and Development with the 1002nd (Bagwis) Brigade 10th Infantry (Agila) Division of the Philippine Army under Col Gaudencio S Pangilanan INF (GSC) PA turned out to be not enough as it was extended up to 1 p.m. in order to accommodate all the issues, concerns and problems raised by the participants.
With Col Daniel Soriano INF (GSC) PA, 1002nd Brigade deputy commander, presiding in behalf of Col Pangilinan, various leaders spoke in behalf of their respective organizations.
On his part, Rajahmuda Alimudin G. Hassan, al Haj of the Sugoda Buayan Royal House and the General Santos City Muslim Council of Elders, had stressed "peace is everybody's concern" even as he called on for equality among the Christians, Muslims and indigenous people in order to attain lasting peace.
Speaking in behalf of the Archdiocese of Marbel and the Kapayapaan Kapatid Council (KKC), Fr. Angelo Buenavides exhorted the leaders and their members to refrain from carrying firearms if they are not members of the armed forces to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. The Roman Catholic priest who is also the chapter president of the local Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) believes that the hunger and literacy problem must be addressed as a step to attain everlasting peace.
Sultan Nasser Pendatun of the Sultanate of Talik-Darrusalam challenged fellow Muslims to recognize and respect the religions of other people if they are indeed real Muslims. "One can only be considered a real Muslim if he respect the religion of others," he exhorted, adding the value of education and discipline.
Fulong Datu Bonifacio M. Lawa, Sarangani provincial tribal chieftain, demanded bigger share of development in his home province as his tribe comprised 60 percent of the population. He complained that so-called development, if ever, has only benefited few people. He however clarified that most members of the B'laan tribe in Sarangani are not engaged in insurgency despite the hardship they are suffering over the years
General Santos City Tribal Chieftain Mario T. Impal lamented on the fact that other people are claiming and enjoying the fruits of the ancestral lands rightfully belonging to the tribal people like the B'laan. He challenged the government to correct this injustice.
Echoing the issue on discrimination, Maas Abdulmutalib S. Esmael, president of the Subata Tumpukan Ha Gensan, proposed to conduct dialog with local businessmen to thresh out the issue of discrimination on employment as he singled out poverty as the number one problem in Mindanao.
In the succeeding open forum, former MNLF Commander-turned-development worker Johnny Akbar, newly elected president of the Peace and Development Advocates League (PDAL)-MINSUPALA, clarified that his group keeps the peace in once conflicted communities for development to come in.
Engr. Misuari "Jake" Abdullah, ACT for Peace Programme-SOCSARGEN-Davao del Sur area technical assistant, clarified the role of their office in identifying Peace and Development Communities (PDCs) in response to criticism that some areas in General Santos City are left out in the program.
The comment prompted Col Soriano to emphasize that peace must be attained first before any development would be introduced to an area.
Realizing the mounting issues in the three-hour dialog, Mohamidin-Tatu S. Tukak, administrative officer of the Sugoda Buayan Royal House-Task Force Salam, pointed out that not all peace and development issues, concerns and problems can be addressed in one setting, calling in effect for a sustained and continuous dialog among the various stakeholders in the society.
In his closing remarks however, Col Medardo P Geslani INF (GSC) PA, commanding officer of Joint Task Force Gensan, however offered a more pragmatic approach to the proverbial issue of which should come first, peace or development, saying that if an area needs to address the peace issue first before any development can be introduced then let it be. However in other communities where development must be introduced in order to attain peace, then it should be allowed.
The SOCSARGEN-wide tri-people leaders dialog was the first ever initiated by the 1002nd Bde since its creation last year. Col. Vicente M. Porto, the first commanding officer of the 1002nd Bde, held the military unit's first dialog with the General Santos City Muslim Council of Elders October last year and was followed with a peace dialog jointly with select Muslim and tribal leaders from the city and some parts of South Cotabato and Sarangani last April shortly before the local and national elections.
CSupt Felizardo Manalo Serapio, Jr. successfully held the first SOCSARGEN Peace and Development Dialog with the Muslim and Indigenous Cultural Community Leaders last July 25 amid apprehension on the implementation of the controversial The Human Security Act of 2007.
The idea of elevating the continuing social dialog to tri-people level in the entire SOCSARGEN was broached by Rajahmuda Al Hassan who also serves as Executive Assistant on Cultural Communities Affair to City Mayor Pedro B. Acharon, Jr.
Capt Patricio S Tomales (INF) PA, 1002nd Bde Civil-Military Operation officer, and LT Amerego B Cope (INF) PA, Joint Task Force Gensan CMO officer, with the technical support of SBRH Task Force Salam, gave flesh to the idea after Col Pangilinan made the commitment to sponsor the first dialog.
The Sugoda Buayan Royal House, the General Santos City Muslim Council of Elders, and Task Force Salam actively supported the conduct of the SOCSARGEN Tri-People Leaders Dialog on Peace and Development in the hope that it would trigger more similar fora in the future.
This early, the ACT for Peace Programme-SOCSARGEN Area under Cynthia Guerra has shown interest to support the effort to promote the culture of peace and development among the people of SOCSARGEN. (PIA-SarGen) [top]