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Christian soldiers host historic Camp Siongco Eid rites

BANGSAMORO NEWS UPDATES • 23:51 PM Wed Jul 6, 2016
John Unson
Christian soldiers stand ready to assist Muslim worshipers whose Eid’l Fitr worship rite they hosted, for the first time ever, inside the Army's Camp Siongco on Wednesday. (JOHN UNSON)

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- Christian soldiers and hundreds of Muslims on Wednesday dined together in the Army’s Camp Siongco in an Eid’l Fitr banquet never witnessed since the onset of the Mindanao secessionist conflict in the 1970s.
Among those present in the event were representatives of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team, which is helping enforce the interim ceasefire pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front since late 2003.
Christian officers of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, whose main headquarters is inside the 500-hectare well-fortified Camp Siongco, served more than a thousand Muslims with food and drinks after an early outdoor congregational Eid worship rite at the parade ground of the sprawling military facility.Camp Siongco, Central Mindanao’s largest military installation, is located in southwest of Datu Odin Sinsuat town in the first district of Maguindanao.

Sandra Siang, chairperson of the Kutawato Muslim Chamber, Inc., said she was so fascinated with the gesture of the 6th ID that she decided to perform the Eid open-field prayer in Camp Siongco to see how Christian soldiers are to host the event. I also want to be part of something so historic, something I haven’t witnessed since I was a child,” said Siang, who operates a hardware store along a major thoroughfare in nearby Cotabato City.Joery Delumpa-Amad, a senior staff of the regional office of the Department of Health in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said she did not hesitate joining the Eid ritual inside Camp Siongco, convinced it will be an experience she can proudly talk about.

This is my first time to experience an outdoor congregational prayer inside an Army camp, Amad said.

Clerics present in the event took turns thanking the commander of 6th ID, Major Gen. Pangilinan, for embarking on the activity. This event is very important to us, Muslims. This strengthened our conviction that we have an Army division in this part of the country that prefers to solve security concerns through diplomatic maneuvers,” said Lt. Col. Farouk Sarip, the Imam of 6th ID.A key 6th ID official, Col. Markton Abo, a Sunni Muslim who is of Maguindanaon descent, said their families would have a good story to tell about the division’s having hosted an Eid outdoor prayer and a banquet for worshipers. I felt so proud and honored while attending the event,” said Abo, who, as a child, had experienced the hardships caused by the Moro rebellion in the 1970s.

Camp Siongco was a tactical springboard for large-scale military offensives against the Moro National Liberation Front in the 1970s until the late 1980s and, subsequently, against the MILF from the early 1980s until 2009.There has not been a single encounter since 2010 between MILF guerillas and soldiers in areas under 6th ID, which covers the adjoining Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces and several towns in Lanao del Sur.
Pangilinan, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1983, was the deputy commander for the southern peace process of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City prior to his assumption as commanding officer of 6th ID about two years ago.Security in Camp Siongco and its immediate surroundings became so tight after two foreign jihadists with Middle Eastern features attacked the facility in 1997 with grenades and machine pistols, killing three soldiers and wounding more than a dozen others.The two foreigners were both shot dead by soldiers from nearby offices as they tried to breach through the second layer of the camp’s defense perimeters.

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