More than 200 runners, bikers, activists, peace advocates and motorcycle enthusiasts made a rousing send off for more than two dozen runners from the Visayas in the Peace and Solidarity Run for Mindanao in Zamboanga City early today that aims to generate citizen support for a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the conflict in Mindanao.

City Mayor Celso Lobregat welcomed the runners to the city and received a torch for peace from Gus Miclat, Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, the lead secretariat of the Mindanao Peaceweavwers (MPW) which organized the run. Lobregat then passed on the torch to Mabeth Montanez, the only woman runner from Bohol which signaled the start of the 452 kilometer run to Cotabato City.

The MPW is the largest and broadest network of peace advocates for Mindanao in the country.

A Citizens Forum organized by MPW network member Inter Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRSMP) presaged the kick-off yesterday featuring Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) commander declaring that even soldiers like him believe that peace cannot be achieved in the battlefield.

Among the 200 or so run participants were a handful of children who biked alongside and sometimes even ahead of their parents or adult counterparts.

The run is part of the Duyog Mindanao campaign of the Mindanao Peaceweavers which aims to build and broaden a peace constituency of ordinary citizens specially those from outside Mindanao. Most of the core runners are members of bike and running clubs from Bohol. They are complemented by runners from Dumaguete, Digos, Davao and Cotabato. The runners have teamed up with bikers from the Visayas and established the “Bisayang Dako Alang sa Kalinaw (BISDAK) or Genuine Visayans for Peace.

The first leg ended in Curuan district, some 48 kms from the city proper. They spent their night at the Barangay Hall and interacted with local officials, Philippine Guardian members and the community in an intense but friendly exchange of views about the conflict in the island. Community interactions cum conversations are a main feature of the run where participants listen carefully to the perspectives of their hosts about the conflict.

The run will resume tomorrow and cover some 64 kilometers ending in Tungawan, Zambo del Sur. The run ends on 31 August in Cotabato City.