DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 April) — Babu Amina of Datu Piang, Maguindanao asked the five Presidential bets during the last Presidential Debate in Pangasinan on Sunday evening a question shared by thousands of mothers in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, particularly in the Bangsamoro: “will we ever live in peace?”
Babu Amina was a child of war. And like many children of war, she has had to flee to evacuation centers countless times. Her mother was killed during one of these evacuations. “Nanay to tinamaan ng bala. Ngayon patay na” (My mother was shot. She’s dead).
She said she has been hearing the sound of gunfire since she was little. Her five young children are experiencing the same situation now. “Paano makapaga-aral yung mga anak namin kung gulo nang gulo? Pahinto-hinto. Di ka makapag-isip kasi nasa utak mo gulo kahit saan ka pupunta.. barilan” (How can our children finish school when there is always war? They stop frequently. You cannot think because of the war. Anywhere you go, there is gunfight).
They still stay in an evacuation center, Babu Amina said. Having separated from her husband, she raises her five children by herself, gathering kangkong (morning glory) as her only source of livelihood because they cannot go to the farm due to the war.
“Paano ko bubuuhayin mga anak ko kung di ako makapunta sa bukid dahil sa gyera doon? Maubaos na yung mga kangkong na ipapakain ko sa mga anak ko. (How can I feed my children if I cannot go to the farm because of the war there? We will run out of morning glories to feed my children).
Each candidate was given two minutes to answer and at the end of the first round, another round at 30 seconds each.
Dismantle private armies; adopt customary laws
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the first thing she would do would be to “dismantle the private armies.”
She said there is a private army set up by a politician there who stole public funds and built an army but “it could not be disciplined” because they help government.
Santiago was apparently referring to the late Andal Ampatuan, Sr., who was long-time mayor of Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao and later was elected for three terms as Governor. The patriarch and his sons – also elected officials – were detained as the principal suspects in the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media.
The Ampatuans were the most powerful then but it was not the only clan with a private army.
The second thing Santiago wants to do “to stop the internecine conflict in Mindanao” is to “adopt their customary and traditional law into our western style/model of the justice system.”
She cited a municipal ordinance in Tawi-tawi but did not say what town and what the ordinance was all about (but was apparently referring to incorporating traditional justice system in conflict resolution) and also noted that they have a Shariah court. She said through these two ways, “maaring magtagumpay na tayo sa wakas at mahinto na ang gyera o terrorism sa Mindanao” (we might succeed in ending the war or terrorism in Mindanao).
Santiago did not avail of her extra 30 seconds in the second round.
Push for BBL, peace and development
Administration bet Mar Roxas said he was aware of Babu Amina’s situation, and that Ina Ambolodto (a senatorial candidate under Roxas’ Liberal Party), who was herself a child of war had also spoken about a similar experience.
“Kaya natin isinulong yung Comprehensive Agreement on the Bnagsamoro (CAB) para magkaroon ng nga ng kapayapaan. Alam natin kung walang development walang kapayaan, pero kung wala namang kapayapaan, wala ding progreso at development” (That is why we are pushing for the CAB so we can have peace.
We also know that without development there can be no peace but without peace, there will be no progress or development), he said.
He said they will continue engaging with various sectors and the MILF while efforts will be undertaken for development. He noted that the infrastructure projects in Mindanao in the last five years of the Aquino administration were double than what were achieved under the 12 years of the Estrada and Arroyo administrations.
He said they have done concrete solutions such as the CAB, that they pushed for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) although Congress failed to pass it.
If he wins the Presidency, Roxas said “isusulong ko po yan dahil peace witout progress di mangyayari, pero progress without peace ay hindi rin mangyari.”
“Dapat panahon na na isakapatuparan ang pangako ng Mindanao” (It’s time to fulfill the promise of Mindanao), he said.
In his additional 30-seconds, Roxas assured Babu Amina that there would be peace when he becomes President. “Maasahan po ninyo, ginagawa na natin ngayon yan at ipagpatuloy natin yan sa inyong lugar” (You can be assured , we are doing that now and we will continue doing that in your place)
Correct historical injustice; talk not fight
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the lone Mindanawon Presidential candidate, took a different approach in responding to Babu Amina’s query. Addressing the nation more than Amina, he said, “the war in Mindanao runs deep. You know this may sound funny to youbut when Magellan landed in Leyte, Islam was already planted firmly in Mindanao … .but you know the conquerors and the Americans and the Spaniards kiunuha nila ang Mindanao which was already Islam. Kaya pumunta yung mga sundalo ng Espanol pati Amerika. Gyera talaga.”
“We have to talk and we have to correct historical injustice,” he said.
But his next lines shifted from the Bangsamoro to the NPA, to federalism.
“I tell you as a mayor of city of Davao, there will be be no peace, there can never be a federal government until we talk to the NPAs which has been fighting us,” he said.
In his previous speeches, he would say he will resume talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and push for the shift to a federal form of government which he sees will solve the current problem. He also told the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officials in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao and in his rally in Cotabato City on February 27 that he would push for the passage of the BBL and make the Bangsamoro a model for federalism, for the rest to follow.
At the Debate, he said he is aware that development is needed “but you have to make the peace there bago ka makagalaw pag hindi mo nakausap ito in peace talks everything will fail.”
He also said that “nothing will appease the Moro people if you do not give them the BBL.”
In his additional 30-seconder, Duterte reiterated “We have to talk. We cannot fight forever.”
He also repeated the need to “correct the historical injustice,” adding that the Moro people are “willing to compromise” as it is not the fault of the settlers who came in droves because “sabi kasi ng mga Amerkano go to Mindanao because it is the land of promise simply because walang Moro magtrabaho sa kanila.”
Vice President Jejomar Binay said the problem in Mindanao is rooted in poverty.
Addressing Babu Amina, Binay said “lasting peace makakamit kung mahaharap po natin ang problem ng kahirapan na naglipana po doon sa inyong lugar” (lasting peace can be achieved if we can address poverty which is prevalent in your area).
Poverty, he said, is the reason why some want to separate from the country, why they use arms to topple the government.
He said under his Presidency, “aangat at aangat ang buhay po doon sa inyong lugar sa Mindanao” (your lives will improve) but did not say how he would do it. But he added he is an action man. “I make decisions. As a leader, I am decisive. Mangyayari po yan” (That will happen).
In his 30-second addition, Binay reiterated that the root of the problem in Mindanao is poverty.
All-out war, All-out Development
Senator Grace Poe addressed Amina as a fellow woman and acknowledged how difficult it is during times of war as the women bear the burden of looking after the family.
Poe vowed an “all-out war” against terrorists and “all-out development.”
She noted that Maguindanao may not have a provincial hospital (it has a 150-bed hospital), that infrastructure is needed to connect with each other and to protect Mindanao’s territories.
She spoke about the closure of the borders in Malaysia and how this has been affecting the livelihood of residents of Tawi-tawi. She cited the need for bilateral talks to fight terrorism.
If she becomes President, “ipagpatuloy ko ang usapang pangkapayapaan pero dapat kasama ang lahat at di tayo dapat namimili ng iilang grupo lang” (If I become President, I will continue the peace process but it should involve all and not just selective of some groups).
MindaNews asked Dean Tony La Vina, one of the advisers of Poe, what she meant by “involving all.”
He said: “she meant the current processes with the MILF and MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and merging all the Mindanao peace processes which would also bring in Lumad groups.”
“She always emphasizes that while she supports the peace process, it could be improved by being more inclusive and transparent,” La Vina added.
In her additional 30-seconder, Poe did not expound on what she meant by “involving all” but spoke of the drought in Mindanao, how much Mindanao’s agriculture sector contributes to the nation coffers but gets a pittance from the El Nino fund, and that as a mother, there should be “pantay-pantay” (equal) treatment of the areas in the Phlippines, far and near. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)