Asian youth leaders call for resumption of peace talks

Nov. 06, 2008

Davao City- It makes one feel bad that the children have their dreams but do not have the means to fulfill them, said Lawrence Chong, a Singaporean in his late 20s, after an exposure trip to a depressed indigenous peoples community in Malabog, 67 kilometers northwest from here.

“A 10-year-old girl said she wants to become a doctor when she grows up,” Chong said. “I was moved.”

Chong was among the delegates to the Asian Religious Youth Leaders summit held in Davao city from October 12 to 16 this year. The five-day summit gathered 90 youth leaders from 16 countries in Asia–all members of the Religions for Peace Asia and Pacific Youth Networkand brought them to three depressed Davao communities in Malabog, Isla Verde and Sirawan to feel for themselves the conditions of the poor.

The young religious leaders, representing Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, Zoroastrian and other religions, are calling for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the MILF, which collapsed after the failed signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) in August.

War and fighting that followed the collapse of the talks displaced civilians, prompting the young religious leaders to propose interfaith humanitarian missions in areas affected by the conflict and to strengthen the religious youth network working for peace.

“This is not an isolated incident,” said Chong referring to the similarities of the conflict in Mindanao with those of other countries in Asia like Indonesia, Nepal and Burma.

The youth leaders, who consider themselves peacemakers, called on security forces to respect the evacuation centers and allow free access to aid for the people.

“Stories from the ground had it that in Lanao, food stuffs to be delivered to the victims are being stopped at military checkpoints,” said Amirah Lidasan, president of Suara Bangsamoro group, one of the local delegates to the Asia-wide forum.

Chong said they were supposed to go to the war zone areas in Pikit, where thousands lost their houses in the recent fighting between government soldiers and Moro rebels, but travel advisories from their respective countries prevented them from going there.

Lawrence Chong during the Asian Religious Youth Leaders Summit 2008( photo by Jonald Mahinay)

“We were disappointed because we wanted to go there,” said Chong.

Instead, they went to the three communities where some evacuees displaced by the all-out- war policy of the Arroyo government took refuge.

Lidasan said some of the people in the three areas were displaced as far back as the martial law years while others were indigenous people displaced by relentless military operations in the different parts of Mindanao.

The youth religious group plans to launch a “Lights Off” campaign, urging people in the communities, towns and cities to turn off their lights at a certain time of the day to offer a moment of silence and prayer to victims of war and violence.

Chong said they will appeal to the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) in the upcoming ASEAN meeting in Bangkok in December to discuss the Mindanao problem.

They will also appeal for the end of hostilities and the resumption of peace talks between GRP and the MILF before the United Nations, the Religions for Peace Global Youth Network, the Global Women of Faith Network and other inter-religious councils affiliated with Religions for Peace and the Philippine Embassy.

With these efforts, we hope that the Philippine government will be pressured to go back to the negotiating table and end the ongoing war, said Chong. “Unless there is respect for human rights, there can be no peace,” he said.

Among the guests of the summit were top ranking officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). The youth leaders want to encourage other youth especially young Filipinos to be aware of the problem in Mindanao.

“The 21st century is very promising but new conflict always arises. How can we, the new generation, accept this?” asked Chong.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, assistant secretary- general of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said the Religions for Peace network is the largest multi-religious group with chapters in 70 countries.

Hadja Lourdes Salma Mastura asked the media to report the news as it is, as much as possible, setting aside their own bias. “Just tell the truth about what is happening in Mindanao,” said Mohagher Iqbal, MILF’s chief peace negotiator. (Grace S. Uddin /

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