BURU-UN, LANAO DEL NORTE – Roses for Peace on Eid’l  Fitr as intense gun battles continued to erupt in the heart of Marawi City, a celebration was taking place in the open grounds of the Iligan City National School of FIsheries which served as an evacuation center for civilians who fled the armed conflict.

The mood was festive, as the more than 180 families who have been living in the evacuation center for a month commemorated Eid al-Fitr, or the end of the observance of Ramdhan.

But what struck a sensitive chord among the hundreds of people gathered at the site was the exchange of roses between the Christian and Muslim evacuees.

Muslim women broke down in tears, as their Christian counterparts embraced and handed them flowers, symbolizing love and the joyous and conciliatory atmosphere at the center.

In the meantime, children ran across the school’s grassy fields, as a group of men roasted a cow which would later on be shared among the evacuees.

In her remarks during a brief program at the site, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Undersecretary Diosita Andot who spoke on behalf of Secretary Jesus Dureza, underscored the importance of the celebrations in light of the ongoing crisis in Marawi.

“This event is very important for all of us, as it is an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to show their solidarity in the face of conflict,” Andot said.

She noted that there are forces that want to drive a wedge between Muslims and Chrisrians.

“Although there are those who say that the armed hostilities will pull Christians and Muslims apart, we believe that we shall remain united as brothers and sisters,” Andot said.

She cited numerous reports wherein Muslims helped Christians escape from the conflict zone.

“Our Muslim brothers were not afraid to put their lives on the line for the sake of friendship and unity,” Andot said.

On June 4, the Peace Corridor, a collaborative effort between the Implementing Panels of the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberarion Front (MILF), was opened in Marawi.

The Peace Corridor aims to provide safe passage for civilians fleeing the conflict, and secure area for humanitarian assistance to enter the conflict zone.

To date, the initiative has facilitated the escape of 277 residents who have been trapped in the conflict zone for weeks.

Andot quoted Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza who earlier said that people, regardless of their religious beliefs, must not allow fear and hatred to cloud their good judgement.

“If we let this to happen, our enemies would succeed in their goal of destroying the good relations that have been established between Muslim and Christians,” she said.

Andot stresed that Muslims and Christians must therefore work hand in hand in further strenghening the bonds of unity and friendship, and pushing forward the national government’s peace agenda.

The OPAPP is currently conduting a series of “social healing” activities in Lanao del Norte that aim to restore trust and respect among the different ethno-religious groups in the affected areas.

A key feature of these healing efforts are informal conversations that would be conducted in clusters or small groups to be facilitated by imams, ulamas and other Muslim leaders and volunteers. ###