CAIRO — Armed with knowledge and skills, a like-minded group of Filipino young Muslim intellectuals who retuned to their homeland Mindanao after pursuing education are joining hands to nurture peace and stability in the disputed Muslim-majority region.
“We could not remain apathetic to the plight of our communities,” engineer Don Loong, a member of Young Moro Professional Network (YMPN), told the Philippine Star Monday, June 22.
Founded in 2000, the group joins some 200 highly-educated young Muslims who returned to their restive province of Mindanao after studying elsewhere in the country’s best schools or overseas.
They are advocating peaceful means to improve the socio-economic situation of the Mindanao people.
The group envisioned a network of young Muslim professionals who promote volunteerism, using their own resources, talents, education and training.
With their laptops, MP3 players and cameras, they brave the exchange of gunfire to visit evacuation camps and help Muslims in unfortunate circumstances uplift themselves.
Some of them also rolled out news and in-depth stories over the conflict and its aftermath on the Internet.
“[We want to use our own skills] to uplift the plight of the marginalized Muslim communities” in the Philippines, YMPN Membership Convener Samira Gutoc, a 34-year-old former fellow at Oxford University, says.
Mindanao, the birthplace of Islam in the Philippines, is home to more than 5 million Muslims.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s biggest Muslim group, has been struggling for an independent state in the mineral-rich southern region for some three decades now.
More than 120,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in the late 1960s.
Many in the youth group say they were obliged to leave Mindanao in order to receive the education they were never to gain in their war-torn homeland.
“We had no choice, but to leave,” said Aleem Siddiqui Guiapal, project director of the YMPN, who first studied in the Mindanao State University and later completed his Master’s Degree in Manila.
But now after returning, the young Muslim elites are determined to play a central role to bring an end to a conflict that is older than many of them.
“These people form part of the Muslim middle classes and intelligentsia, who may be made — if supported — a potent force for peace-building,” said YMPN Communications Specialist Sarah Matalam.
Peace talks between MILF and Manila were shelved last year after the Supreme Court ruled against a government agreement on an autonomous ancestral Muslim homeland in the south.
Under the deal, the Muslim-majority south would have been allowed its own law and police force and full authority to run its own banking and finance system, civil service, education, legislative and electoral institutions.
The situation worsened recently as the army has declared about 100 MILF fighters have been killed in the heavy fighting in central Mindanao since June 4.
Some YMPN members have been engaged in talk with both government officials and separatist leaders in a bid to put an end to the conflict.
The YMPN has also been recognized for its contributions by local groups, separatist leaders, as well as senior government officials and statesmen in Manila.
Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF Peace Panel, believes that the young Muslims group is playing “a definitive role” in the peace process.
“This war may go on past our lifetime,” Iqbal says.
“May the next generation of Muslims see the end of this war and come to know another side of their homeland, a side that is marked by peace.”