HIROSHIMA (MindaNews/24 June) – It wasn’t a two-hour talk like their first face-to-face meeting in a hotel near Narita airport in Tokyo on August 4, 2011 but President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met for “15 to 20 minutes” in a room in Sheraton Hiroshima Hotel, just before the President delivered his keynote address at The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminar at around 5:40 p.m. (4:40 pm Manila).
Accompanied by his peace panel chair, Mohagher Iqbal, Murad raised their concerns about the Malacanang-proposed revisions on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a copy of which the MILF received only a few days ago.
Murad told MindaNews that he brought to the President’s attention their “concerns” on the proposed revisions of the 97-page draft that the GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted to the Office of the President on April 22.
Murad declined to disclose details about their “concerns” but said “inisa-isa ko sa kanya yung concerns” (I cited the concerns one by one).
He also declined to say how many “concerns” they raised.
The President, he said, told them he cannot answer them now as he has yet to check with those who reviewed the draft, but promised to look into these “concerns.”
He said the President was not accompanied by any Cabinet member when he met with them. Iqbal noted the meeting began at 5:07 p.m. and lasted “around 15 minutes.”
The MILF had earlier expressed fears of a “watered down” version of the draft Basic Law.
Draft to Congress
Malacanang is expected to submit the draft to Congress when it reopens on July 28, the same day the President is expected to deliver his State of the Nation Address.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles had told the International Conference of Cotabato on June 6 that the draft was still undergoing a “thorough process of review” by the Office of the President to ensure Congress gets a “more refined and strengthened” draft.
In the same Cotabato conference, Senate President Franklin Drilon, in a message read for him by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, assured the Senate’s support to the peace process and their commitment to pass what he refers to as “unifying and integrating” Basic Law.
Drilon said they “will ensure that the Bangsamoro law falls within the four corners of the Constitution and that it can withstand judicial scrutiny.”
He vowed to pass the law “as early as possible.”
Meeting with Murad
There was no mention of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the President’s 17-minute speech before participants of the COP-6.
The President praised Japan for the assistance it has been extending the Bangsamoro peace process as member of the International Monitoring Team, International Contact Group and International Commission on Policing.
He also lauded Japan’s decision to host his August 2011 meeting with Murad, “admittedly a risky move, especially since there was no certainty that negotiations would succeed.”
“This meeting happened at a crucial time: Talks with the MILF had reached a difficult standstill, and I had broached the idea of directly meeting with Chairman Murad to move the discussions forward. To their credit, they responded in the affirmative. In hindsight, to us, that was the turning point in our narrative to secure a just and lasting peace. Trust was established between brothers, and genuine dialogue was possible,” Aquino said.
He said that as congressman he came to understand that “the degree of resentment in the hearts of the Bangsamoro people was, on a large part, a result of land grabbing and the opportunism of some of our less scrupulous compatriots.”
“Taking advantage of the illiteracy of our indigenous peoples who did not know that their lands had to be registered under their name, these lettered Christians sought control of the lands our Moro and other indigenous peoples called home. This in turn led to a struggle of our Moro brothers to reclaim what was rightfully theirs. Given the many deaths, which were the result of the conflict that raged and festered for generations, one cannot help but wonder: If a law had been passed to protect the marginalized, like the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) we have now, could bloodshed have been avoided? Is it not right that as one of my predecessors once said: That those who have less in life should have more in law? I wondered: With all the hostility and animosity that once existed between brothers, how could one achieve the trust crucial in forging an agreement?,” Aquino asked.
As President, Aquino said, these questions “continued to preoccupy my mind,’ hence “every avenue to build a once-scarce trust was explored the moment we stepped into office.”
He said he and Murad met on August 4, 2011 in Japan “not thinking how to win, or how to give up the least — but, rather, how we could work together, and how we can improve the lot of our followers, who, after all, are all Filipinos.”
He said both he and Murad understood that “the suffering of our people had to stop, and that any form of violence, neglect, and misgovernance only fueled the hatred one side had for the other,” the President said.
Despite the many challenges in pursuing peace, “both Chairman Murad and I, as well as our followers, knew that we had to put an end to this vicious cycle, and in turn ignite a virtuous cycle of empowerment and advancement,” he said, adding that this was the context “from which we approached that day in August here, in Japan, almost three years ago.”
“I sometimes wonder: If that meeting did not take place, where would we be today? Fortunately, that meeting, my first face-to-face encounter with my brother Chairman Murad, was a breakthrough,” Aquino said.
The innocent pays
Aquino began and ended his speech with August 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and on Nagasaki three days later, killing over a hundred thousand residents.
“A fundamental question arises from this tragedy: What did the peoples of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki do for them to pay the ultimate price of war? The tragedy that was the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, seven decades later, only reminds us the futile results of conflict, and impress upon us the collective responsibility we hold in defending the rights of our respective peoples to live not only without fear, but to live in a world where peace is a shared reality by all nations,” the President opened his speech.
“It is therefore fitting that we are gathered in this city consecrated to the principle of the preservation of peace, to discuss how the combatants of yesterday can become partners for the avoidance of future conflict.”
Aquino ended his speech by reminding participants that “whenever it seems that the path to peace is filled with so many obstacles, when our spirits are tested and our faith in the processes are shaken, those of us who are in a position to make decisions must remember what happened here in Hiroshima, and in Nagasaki, and in the many places that have faced and are now experiencing conflict: If we falter, it is the innocent who will pay the ultimate price.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)