LANAO DEL NORTE -- It was not an ordinary “Kandori” (feast) for the residents of Camp Datu Tomanong to celebrate Eid’l Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) last Thursday, 24 September, in Barangay Pagayawan, Bacolod, Lanao del Norte.
Throngs of people, including Christians and Lumads from nearby communities, many of whom were setting foot for the first time in the once-dreaded bastion of the Northern Border Command of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), gathered here together with Maranao residents for the “Panagtagbo sa Kalinaw” (Convergence for Peace).
The once-taut atmosphere typical of the camp, once filled with foxholes and gunslits in houses, has transformed into a cheerful festive ground ornamented with exuberant and colorful Maranao fabrics and the wisps of aroma in the air of delicious “Randang”, a Maranao especialty recipe of tender beef cooked in turmeric, coconut milk, pepper and other spices.
Walking briskly along with his men to meet the visitors with outreached arms and welcoming smile is Abedin Sanguila, commander of the Nothern Border Command of the National Unified Command of the MNLF.
The visitors were led by Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Undersecretary Luisito Montalbo, 10th Tabak Division Assistant Commander Bgen. Glenn Macasero, PRO 10 Deputy Regional Director for Operations PSSupt. Aurelio Trampe Jr., Bgen. Gilbert Gapay of 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, Lanao del Norte PNP Chief Ssupt. Madid Paitao and Bacolod Municipal MayorHon. Joselito Miquiabas.
Usec. Montalbo recalled that two years ago, when he first visited the camp and met Commander Abedin, the road was muddy and it took two long hours to get to where he was standing now.
“I was surprised by the changes I saw. The last time we travelled here it took us two hours and the apprehension that we cannot go down when it rains because of the muddy path but look now it only took us fifteen minutes to travel through the paved road,” he said.
Montalbo also took note that during his first visit, he met only Abedin’s men.
“But look here now, we have neighbors from (the town of) Bacolod who I heard it’s their first time to set foot here,” Montalbo observed.
Montalbo and his companions including members of the civil society came to Abedin’s camp to witness its colorful transformation from a rebel stronghold into a productive and peaceful community; Abedin and his men from battle-hardened warriors into peace and development workers.
Abedin and his men, as a token of sincerity and commitment to peace and development espoused by the national government, turned in 12 high-powered firearms and ammunitions that included crew-served weapons such as RPGs and Barett 50-caliber sniper rifle.
No More Need for Guns
“I don’t need the firearms anymore. And I don’t want these to be passed on to my children,” the 66-year old former warrior said.
He said that they were voluntarily turning in their weapons to the government in exchange for the goodwill shown them by the government in responding to their community’s needs.
Abedin recalls the murder of his son and the threats to their lives but he is resolute to sacrifice to choose the path of peace and expressed his trust to the rule of law and the PNP and AFP to keep his community safe.
Bacolod Municipal Mayor Joselito Miquiabas said he was proud that such a historic milestone happened in his town where a real-life “turning of swords into ploughshares” unfolded with the turnover of Commander Abedin’s groups firearms to the government.
Miquiabas said this turnover of firearms would set a good example of transformation in other conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
Abedin’s community benefitted from various projects under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) Program which aims to jumpstart development in areas whose socio-economic development was stunted by decades of conflict and facilitate the transition of former combatants into peace-loving civilians.
Abedin cited the improvement that the PAMANA projects brought to their lives, particularly the farm-to-market roads and livelihood assistance.
“Napakaganda ng naidudulot ng magandang pag-uusap at pakakaunawaan (We get better results from dialogue and understanding),” Abedin said.
Without prodding from the government, Commander Abedin voluntarily led efforts to convince MNLF forces in Lanao del Norte to stand down and defuse sympathy attacks during the height of the Zamboanga siege.