Attended a “PEACE FORUM: Updates Sharing on Current GRP-MNLF Peace Talks” at APO View Hotel, Davao City yesterday afternoon.
With the Government currently negotiating with the MILF, news regarding the efforts both by GRP and the MNLF on the full implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement seem to be very few. That’s why I found the forum very helpful and informative.
The panelists were Ms. Helen Roxas (OPAPP), Director Maria Lourdes Lim (NEDA Region XI), Atty. Bong Parcasio, and Hon. Jimmy Libawan (MNLF).
Vital to the the Philippine development is national security. Currently, the Government is talking with the MILF, CPP-NPA-NDF, and with the MNLF on the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement. The Philippines cannot take off on its flight to development if it cannot resolve its internal conflicts. The sincerity of the Pnoy administration in dealing with these groups is perhaps its greatest asset. Whether they are competent and effective to come up with a win-win solution, we are yet to know in a year or two.
The cost of war since 1970s has been estimated to $ 2-3 billion, about 120,000 deaths and uncounted numbers of wounded, and estimated 2 million internally displaced people (bakwits). During the forum, one participant manifested that time is not just gold, but also time is life. Yes, time is of the essence in this Mindanao conflict. Every day is a battle for survival for IDP’s who are currently staying in the relocation centers with no source of income, but relying to the government and other NGO’s for relief goods. They cannot return to their homes where they tend their livestock and animals, and till the land for a living.
War is never never an option in Mindanao or else we are doomed in extinction which we cannot afford. I believe Muslims, Christians, and Lumads can co-exist in this region which is very evident in Mindanao State University and many communities. Peaceful negotiation coupled with socio-economic interventions to improve the lives of both the Christians and Bangsamoros is still the best approach.
I overheard a conversation between an army officer and a teacher. According to the officer, there are three wars that the people in the conflict-affected areas cannot give up and continue to battle everyday: breakfast, lunch, supper. If we could view the Mindanao conflict from their (bakwits, military, MILF mujahideen, Moros) perspective and feel the hardship, loss of loved ones and properties, we might lessen our biases and prejudices and so contribute to the peace-building in our own little way.
This is the challenge not just for every Mindanaoan but for every resident of the Philippines: to be informed and be aware of the Mindanao peace situation and contribute to its peacebuilding. Imagine if everyone is informed on the Mindanao history and got no bias and discrimination toward each other, then it will be a better Mindanao. It starts with the awareness of one. It starts with your awareness.
Here are some of my realizations after the forum:
1. Implement the Final Peace Agreement. The debate is still on after 14 years of its signing whether the Final Peace Agreement is really the solution to the quest on genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao and Bangsamoro’s aspiration on right to self-determination. But since the FPA is already there, it should be implemented by the Government both in letter and spirit. This is the current legitimate mechanism to whereby the Government could effect change and development in the region. Whether we like it or not, the set-up of the ARMM is already there. The Government with its LGU’s and the MNLF has to “prove” its effectiveness by improving the lives of the ARMM people. Otherwise, there’s no use on attempts to expand it. People will resist it. I am sure that the Province of Sarangani on where I live will not welcome the invitation it if it will be so invited to join the ARMM. It will cause another distress to the lives of the people.
The ARMM is the face of the Government and the Bangsamoro to the Filipino people and to the world. As the face, its physical appearance will depend on the body’s intake for its good nutrition. Every part of the body should perform its role. What hurts one part, the whole body feels. Every stakeholder has to take care of this body.
2. Solidify the relationship of the MNLF-MILF. This is one of the keys to peace in Mindanao. Both claim to be the legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people on realizing its desires and aspirations. There’s an existing FPA and organic law of the ARMM. Since 1997, the government has been talking to the MILF, and this one I believe will come up with a negotiated political settlement in two to three years time. My question is: how will this (settlement between the GPH-MILF) affect the ARMM and the existing FPA? We are talking here of the same areas covered by the ARMM plus other more.
If the MILF and MNLF are patient in making compromises with the government to come up with a win-win solution in the negotiating table, then the MILF and the MNLF, as brothers, should also be more patient to start talking and making compromises for the greater good of the Bangsamoro people whom they claim to represent.
In the end, it will be the Bangsamoro people who will decide for themselves as to the status of the MNLF-MILF relationship. If the top officials will not initiate it, then a community and/or NGO has to start it.
The peace journey of Mindanao will take a little bit longer as I see it, but I’m hopeful that it will reach its destination whole. Atty. Parcasio reminded me while I was listening in the forum that any step that we take to fulfill our God-given gifts and obligation vis-à-vis peace talks and peace-building, whether we win or lose, is a victory in itself.
Am I willing to take my own victorious step in this peace journey.
God bless Mindanao.
Note: The forum was initiated by PDAL-DDS in partnership with the OPAPP. I’m thankful to Sir Robert for the opportunity.
This blog entry contains the personal reflection of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official views of the PDAL or the OPAPP.