Manila, Philippines — A 25-member delegation of ‘bakwits’, or internally displaced peoples (IDPs), with various allied organisations and peace builders under the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW) and All-Out Peace (AOP), flew to Manila to visit Congress to voice out the realities on the ground, particularly their call for safe return to their homes, and for durable solutions to the armed hostilities in the Mindanao.

“For the longest time, the voices of the ‘bakwits’ and affected communities have not been heard. Our stories are often absent in the discussions,” argued Zenaida Hadji Nasser, a college teacher in Marawi and now a woman-leader of Sta. Elena evacuation camp in Iligan. “Peace process is the solution to the Marawi crisis. Tulungan nyo ang mga ‘bakwit’. Pakinggan nyo ang aming mga tunay na kwento.”

On Tuesday, the group met with the House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, and the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) main sponsors led by Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema, Cong. Pedro Acharon (Chair of the Committee on Local Government tasked to lead the BBL committee hearings), Cong. Ruby Sahali (Chair of the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity), and Cong. Mauyag Papandayan (Chair of the Committee on Muslim Affairs).

“The realities on the ground, the everyday lives of the ‘bakwit’ are ‘far away’ from the capital, so through this peace mission we aim to bring those stories to our representatives,” explained Lisa Ugay of Balay Rehabilitation Center and Mindanao Solidarity Network, “This is the third of this kind of a mission primarily composed of IDPs and communities affected by armed conflict in Mindanao–the first ones in 2003 during the Battle of the Buliok Complex, and in 2008 hostilities due to the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD).”

Marawi as a Peace Process

The group asked the legislators to support and recognise the humanitarian dimension of the crisis in Marawi and its possible spill-over, to adopt this as a national policy agenda with genuine participation and decision-making of the IDPs in all stages of the rehabilitation, and to integrate the rebuilding and rehabilitation of Marawi into the entire Bangsamoro normalization process.

“War is our problem in Mindanao for many years. So let’s resolve this problem in the negotiating table and not in the battlefield,” added Fr. Bert Layson, head of the Inter-religious Dialogue of Oblates of Mary and also a part of the Mindanao Peaceweavers.

Their meeting with the legislators also covered prospects and challenges of deliberating the new draft BBL in the months to come, and the legislative roadmap especially in the midst of the Federalism and constitutional change debate. The group affirmed their position that the BBL is a critical step towards resolving the problems in the Bangsamoro.

“The BBL must be entrenched first, then make it as a template for the government’s federalism project,” Gus Miclat, Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) and co-convenor of MPW and AOP said. “We call on the government to implement all signed agreements and negotiated consensus to sustain moral and political ascendancy in finding durable solutions to address the Bangsamoro question.” ###