Battlefield to football field: Soldiers, rebels play games
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The battleground in Mindanao has moved to the football field. Or at least for this season.
The 6th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday, February 11, led the ceremonial kick-off for Sports for Peace, a peace-building initiative that brings together members of the AFP and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
President Benigno Aquino III graced the event after the launch of the government’s social welfare services program at the nearby Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute.
“Nasaksihan natin kanina ang paglalaro ng mga dati’y magkatunggali,” Aquino said. (We earlier witnessed a match between former enemies). “Pero ang mas matingkad pong napansin natin: Posible palang magkasama ang mga panig na dati’y nagtutunggali sa gitna ng putukan sa isang paligsahang nagtataguyod ng pagkakaibigan at pagkakaunawaan,” he added. (But our starker observation is: It is possible for two former enemies in crossfire to be together in a competition that promotes friendship and understanding.)
Members of the MILF were invited to the event. However, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said they were not able to organize a team in time for the friendlies. “We are in fact saddened that we didn’t have time to form a team because we were too busy. But anyway, we are supportive of that event,” Murad said.
Instead, the 6th Infantry Division will organize a team that will include MILF members.
The ceremonial match lasted only 5 minutes.
Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema, also chair of an MNLF faction, also expressed support for the initiative. “We are witnesses to a time when warring groups can shake hands without an iota of insecurity. How we wish peace would be permanent,” Sema said.
It was a day devoted to peace, said Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles. It also marked the first time that a Philippine president was able to enter an MILF camp in peacetime.
Deles said the Philippines' national football teams, the Azkals and the Malditas, are expected to pay a visit to the camp in the summer to help train kids how to play football. The Azkals and the Malditas are some of the government's peace ambassadors. - Rappler.com