Maguindanao invites MILF leaders to festival aimed to prove province is peaceful

COTABATO CITY — In its desire to contribute to the peace process in Mindanao and for better harmonious relationship, organizers of the provincial’s prestigious Sagayan Festival have invited ranking leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“We have sent official invitation to the chair of the MILF and other local commanders as part of mainstreaming the rebel movement ahead of the successful peace process,” Engr. Wahab Tunga, Maguindanao provincial administrator, told reporters.

Sagayan Festival, which will culminate on Feb. 13-14, was an annual festival pioneered by Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Toto Mangudadatu in 2011, to celebrate peace and development of the people of Maguindanao.

Tunga said Sagayan is an ethnic Maguindanaon war dance portraying the resilience of Maguindanaons and their propensity to defend their people from oppression.

Maguindanao literally means “people of the flooded plains” or communities in the Liguasan marshland.

Tunga said the move to invite the MILF was meant to foster fellowship and cordiality between the MILF leaders and the local officials of Maguindanao.

Tunga said he saw the need for the provincial government to initiate the move or efforts to reach out to the MILF since some local officials are at odds with some local MILF field commanders.

While ranking leaders of the MILF could not attend to the culminating activity, some zone commanders and sub leaders of the Moro front were seen roaming around the provincial capitol grounds, visiting trade fair booths where Maguindanao traditional products are sold.

Many of the MILF commanders and members were also seen mingling with ordinary Maguindanaons at the municipal gymnasium where TV personality Vice Ganda and comedian AiAi delas Alas performed Wednesday night.

Mangudadatu said he was sad MILF leaders could not make it.

“This is a good chance for us to reaffirm friendships and renew our commitments to cooperate in peace and development initiatives and in the monitoring of the ceasefire in all Maguindanao towns,” Mangudadatu told reporters.

Board member Bobby Katambak said the highlight of the weeklong celebration is the street dancing parade around the Buluan town, the provincial capitol.

Katambak hoped MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal could grace the occasion as his personal guest.

Katambak stressed the successful “Sagayan” activities have proven to all that the January 25 hostilities in Mamasapano did not affect the overall security landscape of the province,” Katambak said.

Forty- four elite police force, 18 MILF and five civilians were killed in the Jan. 25 clash that also killed Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, most known as Marwan. His aide Abdul Basit Usman was wounded but managed to escape.

Mangudadatu also appealed to the people of Maguindanao to ignore text message circulating about alleged plot to disrupt the celebration.

He stressed there are peace saboteurs in the province but surely they will fail.

Mangudadatu said the Sagayan Festival was a venue to show to the people of Luzon and Visayas that Maguindanao is peaceful despite the January 25 incident and that the people of Maguindanao are supportive of the Mindanao peace process. (PNA)

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