[PHOTO - Colorful traditional Moro flags that symbolize important events and gatherings adorn the surroundings of the 32-hectare compound of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, whose 23rd founding anniversary is being celebrated November 19 to 23 by local residents. - John Unson]

COTABATO CITY, NOVEMBER 19, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By John Unson - The police and military on Monday tightened security in Maguindanao to ensure a peaceful week-long celebration of the founding anniversaries of the province and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Chief Supt. Mario Avenido, director of the ARMM regional police, said all of their security preparations for the founding anniversary of Maguindanao are closely coordinated with the joint ceasefire committee of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in keeping with established GPH-MILF security protocols.

Various activities have been lined up, to start November 19, for the separate events commemorating the 39th and 23rd anniversaries of Maguindanao and the ARMM, respectively.

Organizers said a provincial beauty pageant highlighting Maguindanao’s traditional attires will be held in Buluan town to showcase the rich heritage of the province and how it has been fighting the ill effects of armed conflicts and underdevelopment.

Residents of the ARMM will also celebrate from November 19 to 23 the region's 23-year existence. The ARMM was founded following the ratification of its first charter, Republic Act 6734, in a plebiscite in Moro-dominated areas in 1990.

The ARMM’s charter was amended and subsequently became R.A. 9054 in another plebiscite in 2001, which resulted in the fusion of the island province of Basilan and the cities of Lamitan and Marawi into the autonomous region, then only covering Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

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Combatants of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1, a component unit of the 1st Marine Brigade, and the ARMM police jointly established a security cordon encircling the 32-hectare regional government compound at the Rosary Heights district here to forestall any attempt by saboteurs.

The week-long celebration of Maguindanao’s anniversary will precede the commemoration of the third year of the November 23, 2009 “Maguindanao Massacre,” the country’s worst ever election-related- violence.

Fragile peace

Joy Masukat, Maguindanao’s provincial tourism officer, said seven ethnic Maguindanaon ladies, chosen from among representatives from each of the 36 towns in the province, are vying for the “Miss Maguindanao” pageant.

Masukat said Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu decided to embark on the activity, among many other programs, to show that the local communities are now recovering from conflicts and political instability.

Mangudadatu was elected governor of Maguindanao in 2001, along with his running mate, Vice Gov. Dustin Mastura, following the murder of his wife, Genalyn, and several other members of the Mangudadatu clan in what was to become the “infamous Maguindanao Massacre.”

The governor’s spouse, accompanied by relatives and journalists, was to file his certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor at the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak town on November 23, 2009 when gunmen, allegedly led by several members of the Ampatuan clan, flagged them down, herded them in a nearby hill and, there, mowed them with assault rifles and machineguns.

Thirty two of the 58 people that perished in the attack were journalists.

A senior staff of Mangudadatu, Lea Sagan, said in an emailed statement that they are also to embark, during the week-long anniversary feast, on a “halal” business forum, to be attended by foreign and local traders and representatives of different business organizations and officials of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.

The Arabic term “halal” refers to food and other products that are not forbidden to Muslims, or those that are free from any “haram” (forbidden) ingredients or contaminants.

The provincial government’s promotion of “halal” industries in Maguindanao is supported by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, through its Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) project.

Sagan said one of the objectives of the “halal” business forum is to optimize the utilization of the agriculturally-viable areas in the 36 towns of Maguindanao.

“There have been dramatic improvements in Maguindanao’s business atmosphere brought about by the peace process and the provincial government’s development initiatives. All of these will help show that the province is now investments-friendly,” Sagan said.

ARMM activities

John Magno, chief of staff of acting ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, said they have also lined up cultural presentations by representatives of the Moro and non-Moro communities in the autonomous region.

Magno said they are also to hold a Bangsamoro Olympics featuring traditional Moro games.

A media summit on the October 15 framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is also to be held on November 21 as part of the ARMM’s week-long 23rd anniversary celebration.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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