The Words of the Zablan Family
Amidst the ceaseless struggle between the government and the radical Islamic groups in the Philippine island of Mindanao, a new hope for peace and unity has dawned in this "Promised Land," as Mindanao is often called. On August 18, 2008, due to the failed signing of the Memorandum of Agreement declaring parts of the province of Lanao del Norte to be under the autonomy of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the MILF group attacked 3 towns of Lanao del Norte, setting houses, schools and communities on fire; thus, killing dozens of children and other civilians. This unpleasant incident triggered the war in Mindanao.
As we are preparing for the Global Peace Festival in Mindanao, we actually decided to postpone the event because of the current situation in some parts of the island. Gen. Alfredo S. Cayton Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Director Emelyn Libunao of the Philippine Information Agency and Dr. Samuel Salvador, VP of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines all advised us to either cancel or postpone this GPF. However, we found out that the area where GPF is going to be held is not within the danger zone and more so; all our partners there are really bent on pushing through with this project.
The governors and mayors, the heads of different GOs and NGOs, the youth sector and particularly the Department of Education have all prepared everything for GPF to happen in Mindanao. The resources that they have offered, all their preparations if summed up would reach to 2.44 million US dollars. The Global Peace Festival in Mindanao is the crying need of the time. All our partners are begging for us to push through with this endeavor for it is their last remaining hope. Thus, it was not really an easy decision to cancel the event. We checked with our advisers, with the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and we were assured of maximum security and protection. When Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo started visiting the sites where the armed conflict is going on, the security network within the area became more intense.
Finally, on September 19-21, 2008, the Mindanao leg of the Global Peace Festival was held in the city of Cagayan de Oro, culminating a series of conferences, service projects, and other initiatives all organized for the cause of bringing peace in the island and making its people owners of the vision of “One Family Under God.” Co-chaired by Dr. Haja Esnaira Estrella Abid-Babano, Regional Director of the Department of Education-Region X, and Hon. Constantino G. Jaraula, Mayor of Cagayan de Oro, this Global Festival was a big step towards the realization of peace in Mindanao and the entire nation of the Philippines.
For three consecutive days, the Department of Tourism together with Department Education principals and supervisors and selected students gave a festive welcome to the delegates at the Lumbia Airport. Wearing their traditional Subanen costumes, the teachers offered garlands to the coming local and international guests including the artists and the dignitaries while the students played their drums and bugles and offered their special dance to warmly welcome everybody. The local government of Cagayan de Oro City, the Department of Tourism and the Department of Education even prepared an 80 feet long giant banner in front of the arrival area of the airport.
Opening the Global Peace Festival Celebration was the Peace Village Activity on September 19 in Tubod, Lanao del Norte. The program, which was organized and sponsored by the Department of Education Region X, gathered 4,000 teachers and 4,000 students together with the International Leadership Conference and International Youth Summit participants, Global Peace Festival staff, and several international guests. The teachers and students who had to travel far to come to the Peace Village even had to shell out money from their own pockets to buy their dance costumes.
Governor Khalid Q. Dimaporo supported the event together with a number of mayors and other officials from the different local government units in the province. Governor Dimaporo was so touched seeing all the international guests flocking Tubod. After all the media reports describing the southern part of Mindanao as a haven for terrorists, the young governor almost lost hope in reviving the province again. However, when he saw all the people especially the international guests coming, without fear, all for the cause of bringing one global family of peace in Mindanao, he was very much encouraged and inspired.
The travel from Cagayan de Oro City to Tubod was a 250 kilometer stretch. On the way to the Peace Village, all felt the tensed situation as everyone saw the communities that were burned down by the Muslim extremists. All 10 vans were escorted by several policemen and military men were scattered along the way to provide security to everyone. Despite the tension, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines ensured the protection and safety of everybody.
The Peace Village Activity proved to be an eye-opener for everyone. A part of the Mindanao Peace Initiative, this Peace Village project is a living example of how young Muslim and Christian students live together harmoniously respecting each others' religious traditions, customs, and beliefs, thus proving that everyone despite his or her religion is a part of one human family under one divine parent. The Peace Village exposure served as practicum for the ILC participants. There, everyone witnessed how it is truly possible to learn the ways of peace and unlearn the ways of violence.
The International Leadership Conference at the Pryce Plaza Hotel in Cagayan de Oro brought together 287 supervisors and superintendents from the Department of Education, congressmen, governors, mayors and councilors from different local government units, as well as heads of the diverse tribes in Mindanao. With the theme “The Need for Vision and Leadership at a Time of Global Crisis: Building Partnerships among Governments, Faith-Based Organizations and NGOs,” the ILC stressed basic universal principles that could lead the people of Mindanao in the realization of peace and harmony.
The conference itself was well attended. Senate President Manny Villar, as represented by his brother Mr. Virgilio “Jojo” Villar, gave the keynote speech during the opening plenary. Mayor Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro welcomed all the guests to the “City of Golden Friendship,” as it is commonly known. In the evening of September 20, he hosted a welcome banquet for all of the guests and participants. For his part, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Jose de Venecia gave the congratulatory remarks during the closing ceremony of the conference in the morning of September 21.
As a response to the call of the times, the Mindanao Peace Initiative (MinPI) was also officially launched during the ILC. MinPI was constituted by the chieftains of the different tribes of Islam and indigenous peoples, imams and Christian bishops and pastors together with Department of Education, Philippine Information Agency, the youth sector, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the young political leaders of Mindanao. Without a doubt, this initiative will create a strong social impact to revive the peace process in Mindanao.
History was written superbly by the youth leaders of Cagayan de Oro. In the morning of September 20, 800 students from Cagayan de Oro College cleaned the coast lines along Bulua, Cagayan de Oro City while 3, 500 high school students participated in the tree planting project at the Xavier University- Ateneo de Cagayan. The International Youth Summit 2008 held September 20-21 with the theme “A Culture of Love: The Fuel Towards Peace and Development” was the first activity in which the youth leaders of the city joined forces as they offered their time, talent, and treasures taking ownership of this earth-shattering event.
On September 20, around 3,000 youth from different high schools, colleges, and universities shook the grounds of Limketkai Mall as they participated in the first day of the conference. Bands, singers, and dancers gave entertainment to all the guests. Inspirational messages from Governor Dimaporo of Lanao Del Norte, Mr. Yequing Victor Lee, Mr. Aya Goto, and Senate President Manny Villar moved the hearts of the young and young at hearts not to mention the very vibrant speech of the energetic UPF Regional Chair, Dr. Chung Sik Yong. Former Miss Teen Philippines 2007, Ms. Maxine Monasterio, hosted the conference.
On September 21, another momentous event happened in the city. It was the second day of the summit at the Dynasty Court Hotel. Leaders from the youth sector convened to upgrade their leadership skills and convictions as they listened to the sessions given by Dr. Ann Montejo-Arevalo and Dr. Robert Kittel. To the surprise of our young leaders, Hon. Jose de Venecia and his son Joey de Venecia paid a visit and gave very stirring speeches. Three hundred leaders were appointed Youth Ambassadors for Peace. The conference ended with Dr. Michael G. Zablan, President of Youth Federation for World Peace-Philippines, launching the YFWP Cagayan de Oro Chapter as well as the Mindanao Youth Peace Initiative (MYPI). While the conference was transpiring on the same day, a free legal assistance clinic for the indigents was set up by volunteer lawyers from Fraternitas Scintilla Legis at Barangay Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro City.
Over all, the summit was a success not just because of the histories it made or the number of people it gathered but the excitement and the bonds it created among the young leaders of the city. The youth proved themselves as owners of the vision of “One Family Under God. The summit is just a stepping stone to the greatest journey the youth sector will be embarking.
The Global Peace Festival Main Event was held at the Provincial Capitol Grounds of Misamis Oriental in Cagayan de Oro City on September 21, 2008. Coincidentally, it was also the celebration of the International Day of Peace. All the vibrant colors of Mindanao were unfurled as the 8,000 members of the different ethnic tribes including the Subanens, Higa-onons, Balangas and others performed their traditional dances during the parade and pre-program. Garbed in bright costumes, they danced along the streets of Cagayan de Oro to the delight of the people until they reached the main venue of the program in front of the Capitol Building.
For almost three hours, all the bystanders in the establishments and shops in the city stopped and watched the parade and street dancing. The lively and heart-stopping performances from the delegation of the different tribes in Mindanao with their rich and colorful costumes added more joy and festivity to the event. In their dance presentations, they shared about their unique culture, traditions and customs. In the spirit of festivity, they freely performed their sacred rites in front of the audience in the name of the Global Peace Festival. Their dance numbers showed how unity is achieved even in diversity.
From the moment the parade started, ABS-CBN, the top TV network in the country, covered the whole event from beginning until the end of the program. The Global Peace Festival Mindanao was on the breaking news of the local and national TV.
Before the main program officially started, high school students along with the audience recited the Pure Love Pledge, as they committed themselves to keeping their purity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. Right there and then, True Love Power International offered the 1.4 million signatures of high school students who pledged to keep their purity to Senate President Manny Villar, who was again represented by his brother, Mr. Jojo Villar.
International blessed families were also called on stage to share about their unique experiences as they live together despite their differences. They showed how the family is indeed the school where children learn the values of love and peace so they can practice it in the society where they live in.
To officially open the Global Peace Festival Main Event, Hon. Governor Oscar Moreno of the Province of Misamis Oriental gave the 13,000 people in the audience a warm welcome. He emphasized that only through peace that is all encompassing can we achieve peace and prosperity in the nation and the world.
Dr. Estrella Babano, as Co-Chair of Global Peace Festival-Mindanao, challenged everyone to work for peace with the recognition that since we came from one Creator, we are all one family under God. She urged everyone not to waiver until they see the beginning of peace in their midst.
Former Speaker de Venecia gave a powerful speech about the need for peace in Mindanao. He praised the Universal Peace Federation for initiating substantial peace initiatives that can truly bring change to the world. He stressed that UPF is the only solution to the problems of unrest in the world.
Mr. Jojo Villar read the prepared speech of Senate President Manny Villar who could not come because of an important trip to Jordan. In support of the peace initiatives of UPF, he pledged his support to the vision of the Global Peace Festival in its endeavor to bring peace and harmony through realizing the vision of “One Family Under God.”
A video of the Global Peace Festival 2007 in the Philippines was shown to all the audience. It was immediately followed by the Global Peace Address of Dr. Hyun Jin Moon as read by Dr. Chung Sik Yong, Regional Chair of UPF-Asia. Dr. Moon in his message stressed the centrality of the family in building peace in the society, nation, and the world. The audience resonated with the main message of building one family under God, one family under Allah.
The presentation of Ambassadors for Peace certificates ensued. Governors and mayors as well as members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines including artists Ms. Iya Villania, Mr. Kris Lawrence, Billy Crawford, Jay-R and Miguel Escueta, were appointed Ambassadors for Peace.
Before the Peace Concert began, everyone sang the Global Peace Festival Theme Song, “Where Peace Begins.” As they lit the candles together, they gave peace signs and called for everybody to give peace a chance.
The Peace Concert with the artists capped the grand celebration of the Global Peace Festival 2008-Mindanao.
In a nutshell, the success of the Global Peace Festival Mindanao is attributed to the spirit of ownership of the people. Most especially, Dr. Estrella Babano, the Co-Chairperson of GPF Mindanao, single-handedly put up all the preparations together with her colleagues at the Department of Education. She really believes in the vision of “One Family Under God” and she wants it to become a reality in the whole island of Mindanao. The teachers and students, most of who come from very poor families spent money to join the festival. The lumads (tribal leaders) even had to cut trees and sell the lumber to the lowlanders in order to come to the city and participate in the ILC. For them, staying inside the conference hotel is almost like heaven.
City Mayor Hon. Constantino Jaraula is completely one with the goal of the Global Peace Festival and he wants that his people take part in it. He organized all the agencies in Cagayan de Oro so they can support in full swing for the GPF.
Last but not the least, the youth leaders, headed by Mr. Kristoffer Rivera, took it all by themselves to mobilize all their resources in order to put up the International Youth Summit. From stage design to the program itself, the youth made all the preparations. They were the ones who became the moving force in order for other youth within the city to also become owners like them.
With all these people’s conviction and determination to build “One Family Under God”, peace in Mindanao will no longer be an elusive dream soon but will become a reality in everyone’s midst.