CAMP ABUBAKAR IS HISTORY, DUMA SINSUAT WILL ERASE ITS GRIM IMAGE
Barira, Maguindanao, July 4, 2002 Camp Abubakar is history. So is its image of being an impregnable camp of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Retaken by government troops in July 2000, this sprawling 10,000-hectare mix of clearings and thick forests shall be called by its geographical name: Sitio Tugaig, Barangay Bambaran, Barira town, Maguindanao province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Since the campís recapture and henceforth, no other flag except the Philippine tricolors will be hoisted in the area, which is bounded by the towns of Barira, Matanog and Buldon in Maguindanao.
Further, the former MILF camp will be known as Camp Duma Sinsuat, in honor of the first Muslim member of the Cabinet who served during the term of former President Diosdado Macapagal and who distinguished himself as a man of honor and integrity in the public service.
The infamous Bedis Academy, a two-hectare camp clearing where the MILF trained its armed forces and where MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim and his lieutenants used to live in and hold office, shall soon be the springboard for peace and development in the area.
The academy complex will permanently host the headquarters of the Philippine Armyís 603rd Brigade under Col. Antonio Romero. The brigade headquarters is located in Pigkalagan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.
Thus ordered President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who braved intermittent heavy rains as she motored through a long stretch of bad muddy roads and crossed two bridgeless rivers to visit this town Tuesday.
The Presidentís move, a local official here said, would totally renew the image of the former MILF camp.
From being a rebel training center, the area will be transformed to a Philippine civilian-military camp with twin goals -- that of maintaining peace and pushing development in the area.
The President had earlier considered asking the Armyís 54th Engineering Brigade under Col. Eduardo Lena to move in with the 603rd Brigade.
But she noted that the militaryís engineering group -- which has done so much in building and improving infrastructure support facilities like roads and bridges in the area in the last two years -- is based in Manaoag, Pangasinan.
During her recent visit to the engineering camp in Pangasinan, the families of the builder-troopers asked the Chief Executive when she would recall their loved ones back to their home base, she recounted.
The move to put the military permanently in the Camp Abubakar area, for all its worth, outweighs perceived disadvantages.
For one, this will finally "tell the whole country and the world" that the MILF main camp is wholly "nasa kamay ng pamahalaan (in the hands of the government)."
Secondly, the presence of the military in the former MILF stronghold will finally make its imprint that the government has no intention to return any captured lair to any rebel group.
This thus dispels the notions and claims of critics and detractors that the government is returning to the rebels the latterís self-proclaimed territories.
Thirdly, it will reassure that Filipino civilians affected by the Mindanao conflict will get immediate government help.
"Hindi natin ibinabalik ang mga kampo sa MILF. Ang ginagawa natin ay kaunlaran (We do not return camps. What we do is development)," the President stressed.
The Iranon and other communities in the area will settle in the perimeters of Camp Duma Sinsuat.
The President took note of the sacrifices of the people of Barira, Matanog and Buldon during the conflict. She said the Iranons claimed the former MILF stronghold as their ancestral land.
"Itinatayo natin ang mga bahay ng mga naapektuhang mamamayan (We are rebuilding the houses of conflict-hit Filipinos)," she said, adding that more efforts would be made to also rebuild their lives.
Fourthly, it will push forward ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Just recently, the peace panels of both sides signed an agreement to push the development of the area and the soonest reintegration of conflict-affected civilians to the mainstream of Philippine society.
But people do not have to wait for signings to bring about development.
It is the governmentís duty to promote and see to it that the people, especially the poor, get the most out of government social services and economic opportunities, the President stressed.
"Pilipino tayong lahat (We are all Filipinos)," she said, as she urged unity and cooperation in rebuilding Camp Duma Sinsuat, in particular, and the nation, in general.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
2002 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS
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