TANGKAL, LANAO DEL NORTE —– He was 15 years old when he started firing a gun and in the following years, he saw himself brandishing firearms and joining fire fights against the government forces.
Anowar Mapandi, now 46, did not even finish grade six because he had to hide in the mountains of Lanao del Norte.
In 2008, Mapandi was brigade commander of the 125th Base Command, Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), North Western Mindanao Front (NWMF) Command in Camp Rabbah Darul Shuhadah in Tangkal, Lanao del Norte.
He led over a hundred of BIAF fighters who joined the attacks in the towns of Kauswagan and Kolambogan that left at least 28 civilians and three soldiers dead. Several properties were burned.
Twelve years later, Mapandi’s only child, an eleven-year old boy, is dreaming of becoming a policeman.
“I am supporting him. That is why I am happy of what our life is becoming now because of the BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law),” Mapandi said.
On Monday (November 2), Mapandi again led his colleagues and their families in a gathering that rarely happened in their area in Barangay Beruar in Tangkal town, some 22 kilometers away from the main national highway of Lanao del Norte.
But instead of firearms , Mapandi’s group brought with them NEW hopes that when they went home that day, they would bring food for their families.
His former commander, who led them in the 2008 attack, arrived and brought sacks of rice from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and news of a series of development programs on the way to their areas.
“I am here today with no firearms and no camouflage uniform because I am no longer an enemy of the government. I am here today, not to wage war against the government but to bring projects and development for our area,” said Abdullah Macapaar, now a Member of Parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Macapaar, known as Commander Bravo when he was the commander of the MILF-BIAF NWMF, led the attack that Mapandi was part of in 2008.
He announced to the community that the former stronghold of the MILF, that was also the site of fierce gun battles during the all-out-war in 2000, will become a beneficiary through a memorandum of agreement signed on September with the OPAPP and the provincial and municipal governments of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte to implement projects of Payapa sa Masaganag Pamayanan (PAMANA) worth P85 million.
The projects will support the normalization program under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and are part of the government’s commitment to help spur economic activity in Camp Bilal and its neighbouring areas.
“Without peace, there is no development. Thus I encourage you (MILF community) to strongly unite against enemies of peace. I am still a warrior but now a warrior for peace,” said Macapaar addressing the crowd composed of around a thousand of his former fighters and their families. He spoke in Maranaw and Filipino.
The event, called Kapamagogopa o bayanihan, was facilitated by the the civil society organization (CSO) Pakigdait, Inc., a faith-based organization in Lanao del Norte.
The event is a confidence building measure to strengthen relationships among the MILF commanders and the security sector.
“This activity aims for an inclusive, unified and peaceful Camp Bilal,” said Pakigdait Director Abel Moya.
Bilal is the area in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur where MILF camps under Macapaar are located.
“Our front commander, Minister Abdullah Macapaar, is visiting all camps and one of his promises that instead of the base commanders going to Camp Kura-kura, he will go down and visit the community. He started it in Picong (Lanao del Sur),” said Musa Sanguila, secretary of Pakigdait Board of Religious Leaders.
Col. Charliemagne Batayola, deputy commander of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said the government’s troops are visiting the area with their combat uniform and firearms but not to wage war.
“Nais po namin na isipin ninyo na nandito kami bilang inyong kaibigan kasi pareho tayo, ang MILF at ang Armed Forces, ay mag pagmamahal sa kapwa at pagmamahal sa kapayapaan o ang tinatawag nating Kalilintad,” Batayola said.
(We would like you to think that we are here as your friends because we are in the same boat. We love our brothers and we love peace called Kalilintad.)
Col. Nolie Anquillano, deputy brigade commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, based in Marawi City, called on the MILF community to also help the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the fight against the Dawlah Islamiya (DI) who are still recruiting and the New People’s Army (NPA) that continues sowing threats in Lanao provinces.
“Sana mapigilan natin ang ating mga kapatid na MILF na huwag sumanib sa kanila (DI and NPA) dahil ang interes ng kapayapaan ay hindi lamang interes ng Philippine Army ngunit interes din ng MILF at ng buong sambayanan,” Anquillano said.
(I hope we can convince our brothers in the MILF not to join them (DI and NPA) because the peace is not only an interest of the Philippine Army but also of the MILF and the whole nation.)
For his part, Col. Ireneo Sebastian, deputy brigade commander of the Army’s 55th Engineering Brigade, committed to fast track the ongoing projects in Camp Kura-kura including a multi-purpose gym and other camp developments.
“Masaya na ako sa buhay namin ngayon. Hindi na kailangang magtago. Makakababa na ako sa sentro (ng lungsod) na walang pangamba, walang dalang armas,” said Mapandi who said he never attempted teaching his son how to fire a gun.
(I am happy now of our life, we don’t need to hide. I can go down to the town proper without fear and without guns.)
“Hindi rin ako nag-impluwensiya sa kanya na sundan ang pagiging fighter ko dati dahil ayokong mapareho siya sa akin. Gusto kong makatapos siya ng pag-aaral at maging pulis gaya ng kanyang pinapangarap,” he added.
(I never influenced my son to follow my life as a fighter because I don’t want him to be like me. I want him to finish school and become a policeman like what he dreams to be.)