Hebden Bridge Gap Year Student Caught up in Armed Struggle
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Tom Boyle (19), a Hebden Bridge gap year student is currently in the Phillipines on a VSO programme. He has contacted the Hebden Bridge Web to tell us about a rarely reported (in the UK) armed struggle that he has landed right in the middle of - those seeking for independence for Mindanao.
Tom has told the Hebden Bridge Web: "I'm currently involved in a youth voluntary program with VSO for 6 months which is drawing to a close. Myself, and 17 other volunteers (9 from the UK, and 9 from the Philippines) have worked for 3 months in Newham, East London and are currently working in NGO sectoral work in Iligan, Mindanao, Philippines.
"Unfortunately, the world's longest running armed conflict has flared up again here in Mindanao. The long-running calls from the Muslim population of Mindanao for independence and to become an autonomous political entity have not been answered after a recent Supreme Court restraining order blocked the ongoing Memorandum of Agreement which aimed at extending the territorial control of ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao).
"Whatever side you are on in this debate, even if you sit on the fence, the sudden and 'explosive' resumption of the armed struggle here has been shocking and devastating.
"Having just been evacuated in the aftermath of 3 bomb attacks on our town community we (the voluntary team) are reeling from the shock of the violence, but also the reality of our complete inability to help the local people.
"I felt a sudden and overwhelming need to make contact with home about an issue that I am sure is receiving little news coverage in comparison to Georgia etc but one that is affecting real lives including my own.
"Having been bred in Hebden Bridge since 6, I have been instilled with the town's mentality. Not to say that we are one mind, but the values of peace, love and unity are threads through which many of our people live by, especially those who have lived there for many a year.
"It is not enough for people to talk about issues like coffee shop revolutionaries, but to be one of the people helping to inspire positive change for peace and development now locked in a secure compound while the people we have grown to love and trust through work and play over the last wonderful 3 months are left to fend for themselves; caught in the middle of a conflict that they neither wanted nor asked for is a harrowing and hollowing experience.
"Two weeks and I will return to the Bridge. Indeed, my heart flies with feelings of joy and expectation but it will be sad to leave what had been such an incredible and character-building experience.
"Peace in Mindanao. Peace to all."
Background - from Wikipedia:
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (abbreviated ARMM) is the region of the Philippines that is composed of all the Philippines' predominantly Muslim provinces, namely: Basilan (except Isabela City), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the Philippines' only predominantly Muslim city, the Islamic City of Marawi. It is the only region that has its own government. The regional capital is at Cotabato City, although this city is outside of its jurisdiction.
Shariff Kabunsuan, however, ceased to exist as a province, on July 16, 2008, when the Supreme Court in Sema v. Comelec declared unconstitutional the "Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 201", which created it.
On July 18, 2008, Hermogenes Esperon, "peace advisor" to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, announced a further expansion of the ARMM in line with an agreement reached between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The deal, concluded after nearly six years of dialogue, gives the ARMM control of an additional 712 villages on the island of Mindanao, as well as far-reaching political and economic powers. Negotiations to finalize the agreement continue.
Massive protests, however, have greeted the move of the GRP and MILF panels in signing a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain as a majority of the Local Government Units where these Barangays are connected have already opted not to join the ARMM in two instances, 1989 and 2001.