There was a time that His Excellency, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, President of Timor-Leste and Nobel laureate– was simply Jose to me.
I first met him over breakfast at a quaint hotel in Bangkok sometime in 1992. We were both attending a conference called “Peoples Plan for the 21st Century” that, well, wanted to chart a common framework for the broad social movement in the region at the dawn of the new millennium . He was there to speak on behalf of his forgotten people- some 600,000 East Timorese who were under the yoke of a then occupying force- Indonesia. A third of his people – around 200,000 – had been slaughtered, starved, killed or impaled by the military and police of the dictator Suharto who in 1975 sent in a Catholic army general to lead the invasion of this puny, gentle, territory.
Midsayap is one of the most progressive towns in Cotabato and for years now had been bidding to become a city. Hosting a big portion of the Ligawasan Marsh which has a commercially-viable deposit of natural gas, Midsayap, erstwhile peaceful and progressive, has turned into a hotly contested area. Like in many parts of Mindanao, competition over natural resources such as mining is not immediately apparent to the people as what is more pressing is the armed conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), a regional solidarity and advocacy institution which is the secretariat of Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC), organized the Asian Joint Observers Solidarity Mission to Timor Leste with its regional partners, namely: the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) and World Forum for Democracy (WFDA). Observers, including parliamentarians and civil society leaders from ten different countries, including Timor-Leste, monitored the entire electoral process by attending campaign events, meeting with party leaders, observing the voting process and the counting of ballots.
The joint ceasefire coordinating committee conducted investigation on the incidents that took place in Midsayap, North Cotabato from January 25- March 12, 2007 that resulted to the displacements of more or less 5000 families. Though findings of the joint investigative mission of the GRP-MILF JCCCH conducted last March 19-23, 2007 is not yet available as this time, the news that had been circulating in the communities of the conduct of the investigative missions have a positive effect to the people. It produced a feeling of security and confidence to the evacuees that encourages them to go home and just in time for the land preparation for another rice cropping season as most if not all of the evacuees are farmers. Read full text of report (in .pdf).
This report covers the events that happened after February 16, 2007, which was covered by Bantay Ceasefire Report 002-02-07, which was a product of a five-day assessment mission.
The first mission on March 4 was triggered by Bantay Ceasefire volunteers’ report that said another wave of evacuation happened in Midsayap last March 2, 2007. This time, the evacuees went as far as 35 kilometers away in Datu Piang town of Maguindanao and affecting eight barangays. The succeeding missions were follow ups as things were happening so fast at the field.
Barely has all of over 7,000 evacuees of Midsayap town in Cotabato Province have gone back home when a chain of displacement was again reported, this time, expanding to other towns of Cotabato and some municipalities of Maguindanao.
But if the Midsayap case had been caused by skirmishes between government troopers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas, this time, the displacement is an offshoot of military pursuit operation against 52 inmates of the Cotabato Provincial Jail who escaped from prison last February 2, 2007. Aside from common criminals, authorities said that the escapees included MILF members who allegedly took refuge.