Isabela Ex-Mayor Biel, Subanon Federation Are This Year’s Peace Weaver Awardees

“IN life, he was a giant of a man – in body, heart, and mind. In death, he continues to loom large in the hearts and memories of his former constituents. Such is the late Mayor Luis B. Biel II. As First Citizen and first Chief Executive of Isabela, Basilan when it was converted into a city by an act of the House of Representatives, Mayor Biel is remembered warmly today as a builder of development projects and above all of peace.”

It was with this and more encomium that Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) paid posthumous honor to the politician of Basilan Province, assassinated four years ago while in office, as one of two Peace Weaver awardees this year. Delia Biel, the awardee’s widow, received the award during a ceremony held at Garden Orchid Hotel in the evening of last Sunday, December 2. The award was presented by Archbishop Romulo Valles, PAZ president Fr. Angel Calvo, and Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRMSP) convenors Pastor Pablo Palis and Jaafar Kimpa.

PAZ has given the Peace Weaver Award for several years as one of the highlights in the annual celebration of the Week of Peace, which is observed this year on November 29 – December 5. The award honors the outstanding accomplishments of individuals as well as communities or organizations in the field of peace-making or advocacy.

The other awardee is the tribal Subanons’ Gokum Sog Pito Kodolungan (Executive-Judicial Council of the Seven Rivers Region), and the award was received by its head, Timuoy Noval Lambo.

In giving the award, the organization was cited thus: “Since its creation in 2003, out of earlier efforts to federate their widely dispersed villages, the Gokum has acted as facilitator, mediator or arbiter in communal conflicts amongst its tribesmen. As such, it is an authentic modern-day peacemaker who utilizes time-honored, traditional ethnic norms of conflict management and resolution. Its continuing successes are reinforcing the Subanons’ sense of indigenous identity and pride, thereby empowering them to achieve their many hopes and dreams.”

“The Gokum is the cultural and social beacon that today lights the path to unity, peace and progress for Subanons, who are the aboriginal people of the Zamboanga Peninsula. The Gokum is composed of some thirty (30) timuays or chieftains of various tribal communities whose total present population is approximately 300,000, mostly living in the highlands of the southern part of the peninsula,” the citation further acknowledged.

As for late Mayor Biel, the citation further said: “In the eight years since his first election in 1998, Mayor Biel built a city hospital, government complex, public markets, two bus terminals, schools, day care and feeding centers for children, multi-purpose and barangay halls, roads for farmers, cultural centers for his Muslim constituents as well as Christians, health units, and many more. He created livelihood assistance programs for the poor, farmers, fishermen, rebel returnees and women for them to enjoy economic security and human dignity.

He initiated and encouraged inter-cultural dialogue and interfaith programs amongst his Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters. He proudly promoted the new city as a tourism destination mainly for its people’s rich and unique cultural diversity.”

Eight “Young Peace Weavers” – previous graduating students who implemented peace-building projects in their schools or communities – were also honored with medallions. The main Peace Weavers received plaques of recognition.

In his remarks during the ceremony, Fr. Calvo paid tribute to the awardees as “people who take care of God’s seeds of peace to nurture and grow them in our communities”. The choice of the award’s title of “weaver”, he said, signifies God and those who assist in the task of weaving the local multi-cultural communities into one single tapestry of peace and harmony.

Zamboanga is marking the 10th anniversary of the Week of Peace. This year’s theme is “Building Bridges of Peace With Our Peace Officers”.

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