By Ferdinandh B. Cabrera/MindaNews
SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao – The military’s “persuader” brigade has planted the seed of peace among warring families living in Maguindanao communities with an imaginary “wall” due to “ rido” (family feud).
“Warring families who for decades traded bullets and bladed weapons to get back at each other, killing dozens, have agreed to smoke the “pipe of peace,” said Army Colonel Arnel dela Vega, commander of 603rd Infantry “Persuader” Brigade based here.
A new beginning dawned in the towns of Buldon and Barira as warring clans locked in more than 40 years of clan wars ended the conflict by swearing to live in peace before the Holy Qur’an.
Separated by only a few meters, members of the Malambut, Kudanding and Alo families and those of the Madid, Cawi and Macauyag, a;; inhabitants of Barangay Minabay in the Buldon side and Barangay Minabay in theBarira side, flashed “peace signs” after the breakthrough in the Army’s peace initiatives.
On the day they settled differences peacefully, and witnessed by hundreds of clan members, local leaders, the military, police and the media, leaders and elders of the warring swore before the Holy Qur’an they will no longer engage in violence.
“It was capped by hugs and forgiveness for the misdeeds in the past, a symbol of genuine reunification,” De Vega said.
For the past four decades, these two clans had been keeping a close eye on each other, preparing to retaliate in kind should the other camp strike.
Eight persons have been killed and eight others wounded in vendetta killings.
Amerodin Malambut, a 66-year-old elder of the Malambut clan, arrived in dark glasses with a relative as his guide. He has been blind for years after a bullet hit his eyes in the 1977 skirmishes between his clan and a rival family.
He may not have seen the reunification and reconciliation of the warring families, Malambut was visibly happy he was present in the historic event.
Malambut narrated that he was then a young guerrilla leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) when his group clashed with government forces in the village of Minabay.
“My group avenged the death of our two relatives by attacking another clan we thought masterminded the attack on us,” he recalled.
“It was a case of mistaken identity when we killed their relatives,” he said, adding the “rido” began then. “Although we asked for forgiveness and offered blood money, it didn’t stop them from avenging their relatives and so the vicious cycle had continued until this peace covenant signing,” Malambut recounted.
Speaking in the vernacular, Malambut said that since that day his family’s movement had been so restricted that they missed many opportunities to improve their lives. “Now we are thankful there are people who took steps to end the conflict,” he said.
‘Enough is enough’
Ebrahim Cawi, the other party in the clan war, said his family was forced to avenge the loss of his in-laws and other relatives. The “rido” for him should not be passed to the next generation, Cawi said. “Enough is enough.”
Root of ‘rido’
Buldon Mayor Abolais Manalao has blamed the proliferation of firearms in Iranun communities for the frequent killings.
“Admittedly, guns are found in every household in Iranun towns,” Manalao said. “It’s a way of living…these guns were acquired as early as during as Martial Law days when people were forced to defend themselves against abuses.”
“No one wins in clan wars. All of the parties including us in local government and the welfare of the people are casualties here, so we must wake up and end this senseless cycle of violence,” Manalao stressed in his speech.
Manalao specifically lauded the 603rd Army brigade and USAID Engage for helping them come up with strategies to end armed conflict between clans. Clan wars are the remaining obstacles in developing Buldon, he said.
Colonel Dela Vega said the successful settlement program the Army initiated will hopefully convince other warring families to put an end to violence.
“You only have a very small conflict that we are trying to resolve as compared to a bigger conflict the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the GPH peace panel was trying to end,” Dela Vera told the warring clans.
“Yet they opened hearts and minds to settle the differences on the negotiating table, so why shed more blood?” Dela Vega asked.
Since the 603rd “Persuader” brigade started its peace campaign under the leadership of Dela Vega in its area of responsibility exactly a year ago now, 27 clan wars have been peacefully settled. Several other conflicts involving Moro clans are also nearing resolution.
Joint-Task Force Iranun
The Municipalities of the Iranun tribe composed of the towns of Parang, Barira, Matanog and Buldon have created the Joint Task Force-Iranun (JTF-Iranun) primarily to address peace related matters.
The group has obtained technical support from the Enhancing Governance Accountability and Engagement (ENGAGE) program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which aims to improve governance in order to build prosperity and stability in conflict affected areas in Mindanao.
The idea was to bring together the leaders and inhabitants of the four towns to discuss the mechanisms of peace building by working with the military, the police, the MILF, the council of elders, and non-governmental organizations.
Under the JTF-Iranun, regular meetings are held quarterly during which town mayors and the brigade commander chair the organization on a rotational basis.
“Usually, finding solutions to rido violence is easier when mayors of affected towns are in attendance,” said Clarissa Echavez-Rendon, the area coordinator of USAID-ENGAGE.
Development comes at peace time
Because of the improved peace and order situation in “Iranun country” in the aftermath of the Mindanao peace process, investors are beginning to come in, according to Mayor Mohammad “Kits” Guro of Matanog.
“Banana, Pineapple, Coconut, and Coffee plantations will soon rise in this part of Maguindanao,” Guto said as he recognized the efforts of the Army’s 603rd brigade in establishing an investment-friendly atmosphere.
Foreign investors showed interest to invest in Iranun towns knowing the land is so fertile and suitable for mass cultivation of high value crops. “In fact we really don’t need to wait long for the BBL to establish the new autonomous government of the Bangsamoro,” Guto said, referring to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now pending in Congress.
“We just need to work it out in a peaceful community where internal conflicts are settled so as not to hamper economic activities,” Guro said.
Iranun tribe people live in the vicinity of the huge and fertile surroundings of former Camp Abubakar, now called Camp Iranun, that straddles the boundaries of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao Del Sur and North Cotabato.
Between year 1970’s until 2000, war was prevalent in these areas. Most, if not all active members of the MNLF and the MILF had been fighting the government. Since 2003 to date, only a single incident involving the Army and the MILF has occurred. It happened in Barira in 2005 but was immediately patched up with the help of SALAM program.
“Those are things of the past,” said Colonel Dela Vega. “Now soldiers and rebels and civilians mingle because genuine peace has been established,” he said.