By Jo-ann Duran Petinglay
MY heart is full today. It is overflowing with joy, and I was never wrong on insisting that I join the visit to Camp Darapanan because I know something beautiful and inspiring was bound to happen.
It was the first time that I have seen such honor accorded to a person — imagine about 6,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members, including women (of all ages some as old as my grandma), members of the Bangsamoro Women Auxiliary Brigade (Biwab) lining along the more than five-kilometer road stretch from Cotabato City to Camp Darapanan to welcome the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff. That was overwhelming to see. The same MILF members who had suffered and fought for their identity for decades, with most of them probably losing their entire family in the wars and skirmishes with the government forces since the ’70s, all lining up to welcome Gen. Galvez, some of them even saluting and waving as the convoy was passing. (I have learned upon inquiry that they were deployed as early as 7 am and were ordered to leave only after the CSAFP leaves Darapanan).
I felt so much sincerity and I felt how much they were longing for acceptance and understanding from the rest of their brothers, the Filipino nation, and they were there showing their appreciation for the gesture of the AFP Chief visiting, which probably for them was already a very big event. That is why they prepared big time.
As I was seated inside the aircraft on our way back home, I cannot help but cry because I was so inspired with what I witnessed.. I am sure the boss was overwhelmed, too. The gesture was not just for him but for the entire AFP. It showed how the MILF wanted peace already and how they no longer want fighting just like any other Filipinos. They want to be accepted by everyone and be able to live their normal lives while enjoying the support and privileges our government can provide them and their families. I hope the rest of the nation will give them a chance just like how our President is working to give what is due to the Bangsamoro.
I know this will not be popular to many. Not everyone will agree with me, but I am doing this because as for someone who was assigned in Mindanao for 11 years, I also had my fair share of experiences with so many members of the Bangsamoro. I have made friends and have established very close relationships with so many of them. I was able to understand why they have trust issues and what they are fighting for. I have understood that they had been broken for so long and only our understanding and acceptance can help them heal.
I for one lost my father (who was also a soldier) during an encounter against the Moro National LIberation Front (MNLF) way back July 1985 in Lanao del Sur. Therefore, I was also a victim of the war and grew up feeling all the grudge against the “enemy” I had thought they were. But all of that changed when I tried to cross the wall and opened my eyes to reality.
I am for the Bangsamoro, and I know they do not deserve less than what we and our children deserve (and are probably already enjoying). I strongly believe that. I wish we can open our minds and hearts. The Bangsamoro people need us to do that, and I do not think that is too much to give them.
I am truly wishing them well, and I am saying now that I might not have been born in Mindanao but I have a big heart for the Bangsamoro. They are our brothers and sisters, and they deserve to be loved in the same way we love our country and our nation.
While we were seated in the car, I heard the Chief of Staff, Gen. Carlito G. Galvez Jr., saying: “These people, look at them lining up waiting not minding the dust and the heat of the sun, and we know they have less (support), yet look at how they have prepared. They gave their all. This is very memorable. I am so touched and inspired…”
(Joanne Duran Petinglay is a major in the Army, deployed in Mindanao for 11 years mostly in Maguindanao. She was orphaned at an early age when her father, an Army Staff Sergeant, died during an encounter with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1985 in Lumbatan, Lanao del Sur. She took the path to soldiery with the hope of being able to visit and go to the places of deployment of her fallen father. She took Master of Arts in Peace and Development Studies at Mindanao State University and graduated in 2014. She is also a graduate of the Operation Peace Kors spearheaded by Balay Mindanaw. It was during these exposures that her mindset about keeping the peace was initially developed. During her assignment with 6ID (Central Mindanao), she was involved in different activities with civilian audiences and stakeholders and was able to mingle and make friends and establish close ties with the people of Maguindanao. She was spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division for two years and eventually became spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga for a year. She was also among those deployed to Marawi City during the fight for liberation of the besieged city for almost five months, holding primary position as public affairs and one of the spokespersons of the Joint Task Force Marawi. She is a mother of three and wife of an army Major. She is currently working as Protocol Officer of the AFP Chief of Staff. -Mindanews)