Special Report by Drieza Lininding
November 23, 2010 – In what seemed to be just an ordinary day for the people in Marawi City, it turned out to be a historic one as Moro Muslims by the thousands thronged to and converged in the city’s main plaza at Bangolo, now Gonisa Avenue, to ventilate their utter disillusionment at the way the peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government have turned out.
Initiated and led by the Bangsamoro Solidarity Action for Peace and Justice, a multi-sectoral alliance of Moro Muslim mass-based organizations in the Ranaw provinces, from 30 to 40 thousand Moros from all walks of life held a mammoth rally, said to be the biggest ever in Marawi City’s recent history, today, November 22, 2010, to air their extreme disgust over the Philippine government’s mishandling of the Mindanao peace process.
Members of broadcast media from major networks were also in attendance to cover the event.
The mammoth rally that started at about 9:00 am held traffic to a standstill in downtown Marawi City. It was past noontime when the crowd, after the end of the program wherein speakers passionately addressed the crowd, dispersed peacefully and orderly.
Agakhan “Binladen” Sharief, one of the lead organizers of said event, outrightly called President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III a “liar” in his opening statement. He was cheered on by the crowd who kept on chanting the word “liar” every time the name of Philippine President Aquino was mentioned by the speaker.
He announced to the country and to the world early on in his administration that peace talks would commence by the end of Ramadhan 2010…but Ramadhan came and went but there was no resumption of talks despite the readiness of the MILF and the expectation of the Moro public,” said Sharief in his speech.
Just around the corner a few meters away from the venue of the rally, another display of force took place, this time by the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 103rd Brigade. The military deployed 5 APC tanks and a number of Korean type military vehicles with combat-ready troops in an apparent act of intimidation and provocation. They were deployed in strategic positions along roads leading to the venue of the rally.
The civilian organizers and the crowd were surprised by these unwarranted provocative movements by the AFP. “The people who gathered here are only armed with placards and streamers, so why the show of force? Are they going to kill us all?” asked Aleem Pandapat Amerol, who stood as vice chair for program of the said event.
There were also verified reports that thousands of participants especially those from far flung areas were stopped at military checkpoints. Many were barred from entering Marawi City and ordered to return to their points of origin by AFP troops manning these checkpoints.
The organizers are planning to file a formal complaint against the AFP for creating unnecessary tension by its provocative display of force in a peaceful civilian assembly. Some of the organizers, however, are skeptical that such a complaint will achieve any form of justice. “We Moros never get justice in this country. Better to file a complaint before an international human rights body than in Filipino courts,” said one of the organizers who refused to be identified. Another participant averred: “If the families of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, many of whom were Filipino Christian journalists, have not yet achieved justice through the Philippine courts after a year, how much more us?”
But despite this despicable and uncalled for act of intimidation by the AFP, the crowd did not waver and showed no signs of fear. On the contrary, they were more incensed by the display of Philippine military force. They kept on chanting “Bangsamoro independence” while speakers and representatives from different participating organizations were delivering impassioned speeches. Some were furious and with tears flowing from their eyes, they all shared and articulated the same sentiment as the crowd’s: “Independence is the only solution to the centuries-old conflict.” Most of the placards read: “No to negotiations! Yes to independence!”
In one placard whose message was apparently addressed to the MILF Chairman, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, it said: “Ya Amrirul Mujahideen, we are giving you a new mandate (and) that is Bangsamoro independence and forget the peace negotiation!”
Significantly, the Moro rallyists, in their Manifesto, declare that:
“In the light of these bleak developments in the peace process, we, as part of that historic national consensus forged at Camp Darapanan in 2005, are constrained to revisit and redefine the mandate we have accorded the MILF vis-à-vis the peace negotiations.
Toward this end, we now strongly urge the MILF and its leadership to withdraw from the peace negotiations with the GRP and revert to the original aspiration and stand on which the Bangsamoro liberation movement was founded more than four decades ago: The political independence of the Bangsamoro nation from the Philippine state.”
The manifesto was distributed to the public and the media.