War-torn town of Lanao Norte lights up Christmas display
By Richel V. Umel | IPP
Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte — This once war-torn town, a usual hotspot of conflict between government soldiers and Moro rebels since the 1970s, kicked off its colorful Christmas display earlier this month.
It gave joy and hope to its Christian and Muslim inhabitants as hundreds of people gathered inside the town hall to attend the opening night after being locked in their homes for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The facade of the municipal hall was covered with multicolored Christmas lights. At the top are the words “Sikad Pa Kauswagan”, short for Sustainable Integrated Kauswagan Development and Peace Agenda.
In March 2000, shortly after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked the town and occupied the municipal government compound, tanks and other armored vehicles were parked in the public square in front of the town hall.
The attack prompted former President Joseph Estrada to declare “all-out war” against the MILF, a war that spread to many parts of Mindanao and lasted for several months.
Enthusiastic residents, showing off their immunization cards, came to the municipal government compound to see fireworks, a giant Christmas tree and a globe, and colorful lights beaming around the flagpole. Voices of local singers filled the air.
“It’s nice to see all of this, considering we missed Christmas last year with the blockages,” said Randy Queruela, 52, an Upper Tacub resident.
“Together we fought and survived for almost two years fighting the invisible enemy, COVID-19,” Mayor Rommel Arnado said in his post.
“It is a symbol of peace, hope and strength. We celebrate life together and thank God for surviving through trials and tribulations. Pray for the eventual recovery of our economy, ”added the mayor.
Arnado hoped that most residents would be fully immunized “to gain herd immunity by the end of December.”
The next day, the municipal government distributed rice and groceries to residents as part of its Christmas offer.
Noraisa Bansil, 50, from Baraason, said she received five kilos of rice and various groceries. “I’m glad that they treat us Muslims and Christians equally during this season,” she added.