AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT
April 7, 2014
HIS EXCELLENCY BENIGNO SIMEON AQUINO III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Your Excellency President Aquino: Greetings of Peace and Solidarity! “Fiyo gai”. In our culture, this means Time has been Good to us.
And indeed, we are finally celebrating the magnanimity in keeping the peace. We, the Indigenous Peoples1 (IP) especially in Central Mindanao, would like to pay tribute to the peacemakers who were at the helm in realizing a politically–negotiated settlement to the conflict in our troubled region.
We specifically affirm your unwavering commitment to the Bangsamoro peace process on reaching the historical signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) by the GPH and MILF and finally putting to rest the decades of armed conflict in the Bangsamoro homeland.
Like many of us, we, the IPs in the core territory and adjacent areas of the Bangsamoro, feel deep respect for the many mujahideen and mujahidat who have relentlessly waged their self determination struggle over the decades. Many of our kin have even joined and fought together with them in various ways along the different stages of recent history.
But most of all, we pay tribute to the legacy that binds our ancestral lineage, the narrative of Mamalu and Tabunaway. In fact, they are the ones who started it all – the “dialogue” of peoples, of cultures, of civilizations. Aside from historicity, culturally – we have long been connected. We just need to remember not only the peace pacts that express this Understanding, but the sacred agreements that bound us as peoples with distinct identities, cultures and territories. That these peace pacts are basically territorial agreements that both separate yet connect us.
Despite hundreds of years having passed, the Mamalu-Tabunaway narrative still serves as our guiding framework, our inherited wisdom from generations past that continues to teach us now on how to keep the peace.
That’s why, we, IPs, have been supportive all the way to the the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF. Never did we fail to express our perspectives in the many years of engaging the peace process – from sending our proposals and position papers to the GPH and the MILF central committee, actual dialogue meetings, and even actively participating in the talks by sending our representatives to Kuala Lumpur and, of late, our presence in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
As early as 2005, we have been consistently sending our position papers and written agenda, identifying ourselves as a historically distinct people within the Bangsamoro territory. We have consistently done this during the early stage of the peace negotiations and well into the recent drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the BTC. We have knocked on the doors of both Panels of the GPH and MILF as well as the representatives of the OPAPP and the Central Committee of the MILF at different times and venues just to clarify our positions in the peace talks.
“Tete gai.” In our culture, this means, Time, for the IPs, has not been always on our side.
We continue to hope and pray that our plight will not be the dark side of the Bangsamoro story. What have happened to the many years of our engagement with the government, our own LGUs, the MILF and OPAPP? Where have all our proposals gone? Are we to expect the same treatment and inattention to happen to our submissions to the BTC?
1 Indigenous Peoples (referring to Teduray, Lambangian, Dulangan Manobo, Erumanen ne Menuvu) Our beloved PNoy, the GPH-MILF talks are also negotiating on our very own ancestral domains, natural resources and people. When this latter phase all started, something we felt was already missing and wrong. The framework and final agreements may have answered consensus points for the Moro peoples – but it raised a lot of crucial questions for us indigenous peoples :
1. Why was the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) – R.A. 8371, the very law that protects our rights as Indigenous Peoples not included in the FAB, Annexes and the CAB? And therefore, we believe that our rights won’t be significantly entrenched in the BBL. The IPRA, which is supposed to be a national law and thereby set as the minimum standard for any legal reforms, has obviously been put aside. It is our national law. It forms the legal basis for our assertion of our rights in any proposition, including the Bangsamoro. In our view, government had surrendered our rights to a political entity which has yet to prove nor even earn its mantle to govern.
2. Isn’t it that by empowering and providing us our rights to govern our own territory, exercising our culture and recognizing that we are distinct peoples part of the over all PEACE PROCESS? But where are we in the entire picture? Are we talking about a different Peace in the Bangsamoro?
3. How can we address a competing and contradictory policy over land and ancestral domains by the peace actors themselves? Government instrumentalities are supporting us for as long as the ARMM is not yet abolished, they say that IPRA can still take effect. In apparent contradiction, the MILF Central Committee publicly state their position on a single ancestral domain (AD) and not allowing AD delineation processes (refer to April 1 Editorial, Luwaran, official publication of MILF).
4. Can the Executive Branch of the Government lead the way to finally overcome the problematics of the IPRA in the ARMM? We are humbly appealing your esteemed intervention to inspire the process and break this impasse.
“Gai.” In our culture, this means there will always be a Time for everything. Even war and suffering.
We believe that the real essence of the Right to Self Determination will never be solely determined by peace negotiations, but by living it out in the daily grind of surviving poverty and facing risk and danger altogether. That’s why after seeking guidance from our ancestors, we decided to do what is just and fair to our children’s children – to carefully prepare the small space for our tribes to thrive as distinct peoples and contribute to the new tomorrow that waits for us in the Bangsamoro.
Hence, we are thankful to closely work with the NCIP in the delineation process which in return, deputized the Provincial Delineation Team to implement the process in the field together with the IP claimants in the ARMM. We are already in the “social preparation” phase giving courtesy calls and information visits to different government offices – ORG, OSCC, DENR, DAR, Maguindanao Provincial Governor, 12 MLGUs, etc. Although a handful individuals are critical and not happy about this development and even misinterpret this as causing harm to the peace process- there’s no stopping now. We are engaging them to consider this as a “special project”- a litmus test wherein even the “minority of the minority” can be part of the Bangsamoro we are dreaming of.
We, the Indigenous Peoples in the core and adjacent areas of the Bangsamoro have considered you a “kefeduwan” (indigenous peacemaker) in the making. We all dream of one day having you come over to our villages as a full-fledged “kefeduwan” – truly when that Time happens, we can say that Peace is really at hand. A genuine peace for all.
Again, we reiterate that we are not and will never be spoilers, free riders, or even ill-minded whisperers of some sort. Our open, honest yet critically constructive support to the peace process through the early years will bear us out. We remain fully supportive of your administration’s efforts to reach a just and sustainable peace in the Bangsamoro and beyond.
Thank you and fiyo bagi.
SIGNED BY THE TIMUAYS, DATUS, FINTAILANS, BAES of Teduray, Lambangian, Dulangan Manobo, Erumanen ne Manuvu, Obo Manobo…