CAGAYAN DE ORO -- Bucking a political firestorm, Xavier University officials awarded government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiators Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal for “walking the difficult path for peace.”
“They were pilloried, maligned and even kicked in the social media networks and other forums but these two persons continued their work for peace,” Xavier University President Roberto Yap said.
Yap awarded the Father William Masterson Award to Ferrer “for her exemplary contributions to peace-building and conflict management and as a champion for human rights.”
The same award was given to Iqbal for his “untiring work toward a negotiated settlement that eschews the ways of extremism and terrorism; democratic dialogue and his heartfelt service to bring peace and progress in our country.”
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles was also bestowed the honorary Doctor of Humanities honoris causa also for her work in peace building in the country, especially in Mindanao.”
“Three peace negotiators. Three peace workers. They endeavored to walk the path of peace. Daghan salamat,” Yap said.
Champions of peace
Yap said Deles, Ferrer and Iqbal should be considered champions of peace and that the university shall stand beside them in their quest for peace.
“Xavier will stand for peace and starting today, we proudly call these three as fellow Ateneans,” he said.
The awarding of Deles, Ferrer and Iqbal drew a firestorm among the university alumni who opposed the idea in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash that also threatened to derail the 17-year-old peace process.
In meetings with university officials, several alumni also aired their fears that because of the presence of Iqbal, armed MILF fighters will be present during the commencement exercise in the school.
None of these fears materialized in Thursday’s commencement exercises.
"We had great commencement exercises at Xavier University. No protests, no disturbances at all. Instead, students and parents were enthusiastic, happy and gave our honorees -- Secretary Ging Deles, Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal -- after inspiring addresses," Dean Antonio La Viña, of Ateneo de Manila School of Government and Cagayan de Oro resident, wrote in his Facebook post.
Deles, Ferrer and Iqbal were visibly overwhelmed with the warm reception from the university officials and students who lined up to get their “selfies and groupies” with them.
“Saludo po ako sa inyo (I salute you). We are not alone pala,” Ferrer thanked Father Yap, university officials and students.
Ferrer said she will draw inspiration from the life of Father Masterson, who too was faced with the same opposition when the priest decided to transfer the Ateneo de Manila University in Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila to its present location in Quezon City.
She said the wisdom and determination of Father Masterson is now evident in the present location of the university in Quezon City.
“We are proud to follow his path,” Ferrer said.
For his part, Iqbal said he could not believe that one of the premier Catholic universities in Mindanao would bestow an award on him.
“I find it difficult to understand. Was I worth it, then I realized Father Masterson was a luminary,” Iqbal said.
Deles said she was very proud that she was given an honorary award.
“It thrilled me very much,” she said.
On MILF camps
In a statement, Iqbal said: "In respect to the signing of the Framework of Agreement of Bangsamoro (FAB), the signing of Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) last year and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is now in Congress and the normalization process already underway, we are no longer conducting training nor establishing new camps. We are not recruiting people for our military organization and we are not acquiring weapons."
Although he clarified that the ceasefire agreement does not state the MILF cannot hold trainings or establish camps.
"If you look at the ceasefire agreement, wala namang sinasabing hindi kami pweding mag-training, magpatayo ng kampo, di kami pweding magbili ng armas. Di na kami nag-training. Yung training camp sa Iligan matagal na po yan,” Iqbal said, referring to the camp in Rogongon in Iligan City.
Ferrer said "the decommissioning body is already in place. It is headed by an Ambassador from Turkey, a retired general from Norway, a retired general from Nepal, a major from Brunei, retired army general Rey Ardo, the former Western Mindanao Command commanding general, Professor Mayong Agoha from Mindanao State University-Marawi and Von Alhaq, a nominee from MILF."
Ferrer expects the sincerity of the MILF in going through the decommissioning process.
She said there is no buyback program; instead, a livelihood program to uplift the socio-economic development will be implemented.
"The MILF camps will turn into development communities which will be the recipient of sustainable development," Ferrer added. (Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro)