Kidnapping ‘blessing in disguise’
PAYAO, Zamboanga Sibugay, Philippines—Bangon Payao! The people of Payao made this call as they marched on the narrow streets of this municipality, just a day after kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi bade them goodbye.
“Let’s continue with our unity, rise from the negative feedback, and work for peace and development,” Payao Mayor Joeper Mendoza told the hundreds of men, women and children who braved the alternating scorching heat and drizzle as they joined the peace caravan on Thursday.
Payao, Mendoza said, has even become a subject of banter in the province, following the abduction of Bossi in the village of Silal.
Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential assistant on the peace process, encouraged the people to transform the kidnapping of Bossi into an opportunity to allow Payao to move toward peace and progress.
“I told the mayor that this incident should not weaken us. On the contrary, we’re going to use that incident to become an opportunity. Take advantage of this,” he said in an interview.
Dureza then informed the crowd of the P5-million assistance to the seaweed industry development of Payao through the GoP-UN Action for Conflict Transformation (ACT) for Peace Program, which he serves as the national program director.
“The way to peace is not only through peace negotiation. Yes, negotiations contribute to peace. But the most important thing is for the people to have decent livelihood and have peace of mind,” he said.
He asked the people of Payao, which is home to around 45,000 Christians, Muslims and lumad, to understand and respect the differences of one another to sustain peace in the community.
“Even if I signed 100 peace agreements if you and your neighbor are fighting or political bickering is strong in your community, nothing will happen to our communities,” he said.
The community and key leaders also signed a peace covenant reiterating their unity toward peace.
“Let us help one another for Payao. I commit myself to become your bata-bata (bridge) to Malacañang,” he added, to the cheer of the people, many of whom were amazed to see for the first time high-ranking government officials.
Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. George Hofer, who was on his second visit to Payao, gave a commitment to immediately rehabilitate the road going to the municipality, which is 73 kilometers away from Ipil, 23 km of which are “rough road.”
Dureza and Undersecretary Renato Ebarle, of the Presidential Management Staff, on the other hand, pledged to assist the processing of papers needed by the Payao local government unit for the conversion of the road going to the town into a secondary road.
Other officials participating in the peace caravan were Rep. Belma Cabilao; Maj. Gen. Nehemias Pajarito of the Tabak Division; Col. Jovencio Magalso of the 102nd Brigade of the Philippine Army; Mayors Expedito Gonzales of Imelda and Walter Palma of Diplahan, both in Zamboanga Sibugay; Director Nasrodding Dacula, provincial director of Office of Muslim Affairs, and Fr. Robert Brillantes, new parish priest of Payao.
Also present were representatives of different sectors, traditional leaders, peace and development advocates in Zamboanga Peninsula and students.
Many of those who joined the caravan were happy to see and hear many of their government officials.
“Most of them I saw only on posters (during elections) or in the newspapers. I am so happy to see them,” said Dricksa Pañarec, a first year student at the Payao National High School.
In jest, the master of ceremony said the kidnapping was “a blessing in disguise” as it brought key leaders to the community.
It was a joyous day for the people of Payao as, aside from seeing personalities, they were also enjoying cultural presentations from different groups.
Many of them also availed of the services from the medical and dental mission conducted by the Integrated Provincial Health Office and the Philippine Army’s 102nd Brigade.
But the mention of the name of Bossi brought a hint of sadness to some people in the crowd. For the students of Payao National High School, they would miss the priest’s funny gestures, particularly his kissing of the hands of the students who would like to kiss his hand.
The peace caravan is among the initiatives being undertaken by the local government and the Church with the assistance of the civil society groups and the ACT for Peace to strengthen the relations of the members of the community.
Yesterday, community leaders participated in an inter-religious dialogue, discussing the teachings of one’s religion on understanding, respect, love and peace as well as views on development.
For now, the people of Payao are helping one another understand what happened to their community, re-strengthen their ties between and among themselves and move on as one community.