CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/1 March)–The signing of the annexes to the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB)—presumably the terms and conditions for peace in Mindanao—have set the stage for effecting a paradigm change in our region.
Hopefully it will be a change not just in image but substance, nor just in form but essence. It should reflect our desire to put an end to fratricidal war and bloodshed that inflict misery on lives, innocent or not, and communities.
The aim should be not merely to freeze hostility or suppress antagonism, but to melt away and be rid of the venom of anger or resentment accumulated over years of mistrust, miscues, and misunderstanding.
One wonders, though, whether it will quell the ambition of those who seek to benefit from outright secession, an ambition that admits of no limit in blood, sweat, or tears.
Will the new relationship be characterized by candor, transparency, and adherence to the rule of law? Will democracy and the democratic process be the basic framework for interaction?
These are vital questions. The answers will determine the credulity of any claim that peace is really the objective.
What if it turns out that going into this agreement is merely a negotiating tactic to clear the path for eventual secession or independence?
The ideal of course is for the agreement to mark the beginning of the end of armed strife and violent confrontation. But this may not be possible unless the MILF abandons secession as its true objective; or at the least, give up violence and armed confrontation as a means of attaining its goals.
Ending violence and establishing rule of law are the sine qua non for lasting peace.
Deeds are Crucial
Lots of words have been uttered, ample rhetoric employed, to get to this point in the negotiations. It is time to go beyond words, to walk the talk, to back it up with deeds that signify peace is really at hand.
Is it out of place now to ask if the MILF has made confidence-building measures to reassure the skeptical that they are into this in earnest? What do we get for embracing and supporting the agreement?
Supporting or promoting this agreement effectively commits all of us not only to declare but to revere the Bangsamoro as a special kind of citizen without reservation. As we, who are not bangsamoro, go along with the agreement and accept the new paradigm, it is only natural to expect reciprocal action.
For one, it would be nice to see a gesture of appreciation on their part, an indication that they appreciate solidarity founded on a common heritage worth protecting and preserving for posterity.
On our part, we must be ready to affirm that The Bangsamoro now stands with us as equal and second to none as sovereign citizens of the Philippine Republic.
The Chair of the Transition Team, Mohager Iqbal, asks—as does PNoy—that we “fast-track” the acceptance or approval of the agreement. In this regard, care should be taken that the presentations/consultations are done with utter delicacy, sensitive to reality.
For instance, it would be wrong to presume that everyone is open-minded, that a sense of ownership of the Bangsamoro idea can be readily acquired or implanted. Not especially where people were not involved in the peace process, nor were made to feel as parties-in-interest.
The fact is, most Mindanaons, like the rest of the Filipino people, were not really involved in the process except as spectators. It was, is, viewed as primarily an affair between the Central Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Meanwhile, many are still skeptical of the latter’s claim to represent all so-called Bangsamoro, which to them is still a vague concept.
The imbroglio in Zamboanga City just two weeks ago, in which an assembly expressed its disaffection towards the agreement or the MILF, or both—in no uncertain terms—should caution against undue presumptions or impatience.
One must never forget that what brought matters to this point involved the use of deadly weapons, violence, deaths, and secessionist posturing.
So there is an inhibiting fear-factor here, reinforced by general knowledge that the MILF possesses armed readiness to challenge government or the rule of law at any time.
The challenge we all face is how to convince people—especially those who have been injured or traumatized—to think of peace as something that flows from the heart or the mind rather than from the barrel of a gun. (Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at Development Academy of the Philippines, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. [email protected])