Muslims and Christians Run Together for Peace and Freedom

The peace process in the Philippines gets promoted in an unusual way on May 24, 2015 by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), bringing together Muslims, Christians and indigenous groups to a 5-km long fun run for peace and freedom in Zamboanga City, the heart of the crisis area in the south of the country.

More than 40 years of civil war between armed groups of the Muslim minority striving for autonomy and the Philippine government, have left deep scars in the southernmost region of Mindanao, with more than 100,000 dead and over 2 million internally displaced persons.

In 2012 a peace process was finally initiated. As a result the biggest armed group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Government of the mostly Catholic Philippines signed the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement." However, some factions do not recognize the peace negotiations, still leading to occasional bloodshed in the region.

The most extreme case was the failed police operation of Mamasapano, in which two wanted terrorists should be arrested on mostly MILF territory on January 25. This led to heavy fighting. One of the terrorists was killed and the other escaped, while 44 police officers of the special forces were killed, as were 18 MILF fighters and five of the break-away Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). This human and political disaster has shaken the peace process.

Now FNF Philippines, a German foundation promoting good governance, human rights and economic freedom, brings their legendary "Freedom Run" running series to the epicenter of crisis-ridden Mindanao.

Zamboanga City, the hometown of most of the fallen police officers, has a reputation of being in a challenging and precarious region. At the end of 2013 Muslim rebels of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), raided the ancient port city and took hundreds of hostages. The following week-long siege, with violent street battles, cost over 200 people their lives, leaving part of the city destroyed.

To date, many people live in refugee camps. Residents - Christians are in the majority - live with the threat of kidnappings and bombs by extremist rebels. At the same time, the city has a vibrant, emerging economic and cultural life. "To promote a conciliatory, optimistic character is all the more important here," says FNF director Jules Maaten.

Already over four years the Freedom Run series of FNF, under the banner "I am Free from Corruption", enjoys great popularity in the country. With eight runs in seven cities so far, it has reached well over 20,000 people being sensitized on the corruption issue.

In cooperation with the local government of Zamboanga City, the local office of the National Commission of Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and local Muslim, Christian and indigenous groups, the Foundation for Freedom will now, jointly with the more than 1,000 expected runners in the name of freedom, give a strong signal of reconciliation and peace in the Philippines.