We, the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW), like much of the country, watched on and in rising horror as the beautiful southern city of Zamboanga was riddled by gunfire and shrouded by smoke during those twenty fateful days last September. We watched with hearts bleeding as guns rattled, fires raged and people fled their homes in abject fear. A jewel of the south, Zamboanga was left scarred by bullets, bombs and flames, with vast swaths left in ruins, its people left hurt and fearful, and at the core of it all, a multitude of us asking “Why?”

We of the MPW, our local and regional partners, in solidarity with Zamboanguenos all over, launched our “Puente de Solidaridad” (Solidarity Bridge), a Solidarity Mission to Zamboanga. This is our first small step towards sifting through the ashes, listening to the various narratives and surfacing key insights that would hopefully prevent a similar event from ever happening again. Over the past three (3) days, the thirty six (36) participating groups from different parts of Mindanao, Manila and Southeast Asia, have listened to different story tellers, visited camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), talked to evacuees, walked the razed streets where we could and contrasted “ground zero” with the rest of the city and the region as well. Again, our minds were left asking, “Why?”
The tallies shared with MPW to date remain numbing. Hundreds dead and wounded, ten thousand homes and structures destroyed, more than 140,000 individuals displaced, billions of pesos in continuing losses and costs to rebuild and recover. The timetable for physical rebuilding is estimated to span years, the psycho-social recovery of hearts and minds will likely span even longer, if recovery is possible at all. Repeatedly, out of all that we saw and heard we were spurred back to the question “Why?”

The answers the mission delegates and partners gathered thus far remain disjointed, piecemeal and even contradictory. Furthermore, in the wake of the earthquake that shook the Visayas just weeks past, and with monster typhoon Yolanda leaving further chaos and deaths yesterday, MPW feels that Zamboanga’s crisis may soon be lost in the din of tens of thousands more fellow Filipinos elsewhere clamoring for help and attention in these calamity-wracked times before us. The billion-peso pork barrel scam investigation now unfolding before us is but another tragedy vying for national interest.

Yet MPW strongly believes that the crisis in Zamboanga and its aftermath should not be lost in the shuffle of dealing with natural calamities nor political showcases. Foremost, MPW believes, this crisis was wholly human-made. It was spawned of political debate and action or inaction, between parties having several options at resolution. Yet how the final path evolved to an armed confrontation remains ill-defined, and its repercussions further unclear. Supposition, conjecture and some may even say misdirection, forms a large part of the prevailing narrative. Therein lies the core of MPW’s concern, that the lessons of Zamboanga need to be quickly distilled and learned from, and that steps to counter repercussions and engender recovery and healing should be initiated at the soonest possible time.

Thus, in line with these initial realizations about what the Solidarity Mission has seen as taking place in Zamboanga, we fervently appeal H.E. Pres Aquino, Sec Dinky Soliman, Sec Mar Roxas, Sec Ging Deles, Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar, the local Crisis Management Committee and all stakeholders concerned to address the following calls:

1. MPW calls for the national government and line agencies concerned to engage and consult key sectors involved including the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) affected in comprehensively addressing the protection, return, resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration concerns of the evacuees in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) and other international protocols on internal displacement.
Moreover, MPW specifically appeals the national government to support the immediate review and passage of the “Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act of 2013” vetoed last May 2013 which was supposedly meant to localize the UNGPID.
Along this line, we vigorously propose :

a. ON HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE : That the provision and distribution mechanisms for food rations and supplies consistently abide with international standards, respond to the specific needs, and promote gender and cultural sensitivities of the IDPs;

b. ON RIGHTS AND ENTITLEMENTS : That the local government and agencies concerned empower an evacuation camp management that guarantees the safety and protection of vulnerable groups (i.e. women, children, elderly, persons with disability) and immediately address rampant issues on gender-based violence, human trafficking and health problems arising from the humanitarian crisis;

c. ON PARTICIPATION RIGHTS : That the IDPs are regularly consulted and promptly informed on the plans and developments directly affecting their situation by setting-up a participatory mechanism with representation of IDPs inside the camps and home-based.

We strongly urge the full disclosure of public documents detailing the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Plan of the conflict-affected barangays by the local government and the line agencies concerned. And specifically recommend that the barangay and traditional leaders of the conflict-affected areas will be directly involved to help fast track the “mapping and tagging” of residents of these barangays.

d. ON RETURN, RESETTLEMENT : That the local government guarantee and facilitate the safe and immediate return of all residents to their domicile, and provide assistance in rebuilding their homes. That the informal settlers among the IDPs will be genuinely consulted to arrive at an acceptable relocation plan responsive of their present needs and capacities.

2. MPW expressly supports the call for a formal joint-inquiry participated by all key stakeholders (GPH, MNLF, Civil Society) and accompanied by relevant international partners on how the Zamboanga crisis unfolded in order to exact accountability and pursue legal and restorative remedies as indicated by the facts;

3. MPW calls for the greater inclusivity, synergy and convergence of the peace processes, specifically keying on;

· the just completion of the GPH-MNLF Tripartite Review of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement incorporating a mutually-acceptable roadmap in moving forward the peace process;

· the immediate completion of the remaining two (2) annexes of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the subsequent signing of the comprehensive compact;

4. MPW appeals to all Bangsamoro fronts and peoples to prioritize the “dialogue imperative” in order to galvanize solidarity and develop a convergence formula in operationalizing a more inclusive peace process;

5. MPW calls for public support and action on the need for healing and reconciliation geared towards rebuilding the sense of trust and community underpinning Zamboanga’s diversity;

6. MPW encourages the immediate roll out of a “healing advocacy” incorporating relevant timely information on the peace processes to the peoples of Zamboanga and the island provinces. This will be initiated by a multistakeholder partnership between the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the peace panels, the different Moro liberation fronts and the media practitioners;

7. MPW strongly condemns any military action, whether all out, calibrated and otherwise, as an option when civilians are put at greatest risk.

8. MPW calls on the Civil Society and communities to continue to close ranks, support and build on each other’s gains, particularly in these trying times of conflict and crises.

In closing, the Solidarity Mission led by the MPW, reaffirms our united call for finding peaceful resolutions to conflict, for all of us, more so government, to exhaust negotiations and dialogue as primary mechanisms for preventing conflicts, for all of us to respect cultures and sensitivities, for all of us to honor human rights and self-determination, for all of us to do no harm in the pursuit of our objectives, and above all, for all of us to remain rooted in our expressed value for life, liberty and peace.

Guided by the Almighty, we pray that our initial Solidarity Bridge contributes to lightening Zamboanga’s burden and hasten it on the path of recovery and healing. We also pray that more bridges connect and radiate our common desire for peace through the rest of our land and beyond.

Signed by the Solidarity Mission Delegates :

Acehnese Civil Society Task Force – ACSTF (Banda, Aceh)
AGONG Peace Network, Inc
Ahllul Bay’t Center for Islamic Mission (ABCIM)
Baugbug, Inc
Blue Mosque and Cultural Center
Catholic Relief Services – CRS
Child Fund, Philippines
Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society – CBCS
Darul Ifta Crisis Management Committee
Diocese of Ipil
Gabay-Bayanihan – Sulu
Golden Crescent Consortium of Peacebuilders and Affiliates (GCCPBA)
Holy Rosary Family Center (HRFC)
Initiatives for International Dialogue – IID
Interreligious Solidarity Movement for Peace – ISP
Jabu-Jabu, The Calling, Inc
Justice and Peace Commission (Kupang, Indonesia)
Justice and Peace in Creation (NDU JPIC-Jolo)
Mindanao Peace Advocates Conference – MPAC
Mindanao Peoples Caucus – MPC
Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement – MPPM
Nagdilaab Foundation, Inc
National Sama Badjao Movement (NSBM)
Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ)
Peace and Conflict Journalism – PECOJON
Peacebuilders Community, Inc
Philippine Center for Islam & Democracy – PCID
Salam Tribal Council
Southeast Asia Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (SEA-GPPAC)
Student Solidarity Council (East Timor)
SUCCEED Philippines
Tulung Lupah Sug – TLS
Women Network – WON (Burma)
YES Movement
Zamboanga Amores Interfaith