Gloria’s six SONAs and her promises of peace

In contrast, last year’s SONA sounded optimistic on peace. “If we can harness the forces of good in our nation, the positive force at work here at home and those from abroad such as the US, Malaysia, the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) and others, we shall prevail in Mindanao with a peace agreement that brings freedom and hope to all Filipinos. With this peace, we would reap dividends in resources invested in agribusiness, not aggression, to build up, not tear down, the Philippine south.”

The SONA of 2005, however, was even more optimistic. “We've worked with the organization of the Islamic conference to forge peace with our Muslim brothers. Eighty per cent of our peace talks with them (MILF) have been completed. Permanent peace in Mindanao is within reach,” the President said.

Two years later, the prospects of achieving “permanent peace” do not appear within reach.

In that same SONA,  the President bragged about how “our victories in the war on terror have been acknowledged by no less than President Bush before the US National Defense University.”

The Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, she said, “can only pick up the pieces of its broken backbone in Mindanao.”

Two years later, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ internal security operations mission remains, aside from “to defeat the CPP/NPA/NDF by 2010,” and “contain the Southern Philippine secessionist group,” to “destroy the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah soonest.”

The President said nothing about Mindanao or the peace process in her SONA in 2004, the year she was supposed to have been given a full six-year mandate as President in the 2004 elections.

Of 104 paragraphs in that SONA, not a single paragraph mentioned Mindanao. In the SONA of 2005,   there were only two of  43 paragraphs and in the SONA 2006,  18 of 85 paragraphs were on Mindanao.

The 127-paragraph 2003 SONA came at the end of the war her military waged against the MILF in February that year, a day after her government peace panel presented to her, through then Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, the draft final peace agreement with the MILF.

The 2003 SONA also came days after a ceasefire agreement was signed between the government (GRP and the MILF, to reiterate the 1997 general cessation of hostilities agreement.

Fourteen paragraphs of the SONA were on Mindanao.

“By now, we should be at peace: at peace in the South, at peace in the countryside, safe in our homes and secure in our communities. But we remain at war. At war against terrorism. At war against corruption. At war against disease. At war against drugs, the greatest menace facing our country today,” the President said.

We have hit hard at terrorism and, with the help of Speaker Jose de Venecia, made advances towards a negotiated peace on two fronts: the MILF and the NDF,” and that the following week,  the government and MILF peace panel were starting to talk again towards a “panghuling kasunduang pang-kapayapan” (final peace agreement).

She cited Malaysia for its help in the search of a political solution to the conflict, “while looking to the United States in the rehabilitation of conflict areas and the eradication of the roots of war.”

“We – all of us Filipinos – have to decide now, once and for all, whether we want peace or we want war. There is no (other) way to peace. Peace is the way,” she said.

“Subalit kung ipagpilitan ng ilang mga kaaway ng ating republika ang digmaan, wala akong magagawa kung hindi tapatan sila upang ipagtanggol an ating mga kababayan,” (But if the enemies of our republic force war on us, I have no choice but to confront them to defend our people) she said.

The 133-paragraph SONA of 2002 bragged about how “this year, what used to be Camp Abubakar (main camp of the MILF), became an authentic community of new hopes and dreams, where our flag lies and our soldiers protect those who have returned to their homes.”

“Beyond the symbolic significance of these accomplishments, we have brought back inter-faith solidarity, energized by the invaluable initiative of Speaker Jose de Venecia, and sealed peace agreements with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” she said.

The President had suspended the formal peace talks in March that year but sent her back-channel negotiator, Norberto Gonzales, now National Security Adviser, in May that year to meet with and sign agreements with the MILF on the rehabilitation and interdiction of criminal elements in  so-called MILF areas.

Of the 12 paragraphs on Mindanao, one had her saying, “I led our soldiers in defeating the Abu Sayyaf.”

American missionary Gracia Burnham was rescued a month earlier. Her husband and a nurse-captive, were killed.

Five years after saying she led her soldiers in “defeating the Abu Sayyaf,” the Abu Sayyaf remains a problem.

In her first SONA in 2001, the President spoke about Mindanao in eight out of 162 paragraphs.

“We will bring our war against poverty to rural Mindanao, especially the areas most affected by the past conflicts. We have helped more than half of the 27,000 evacuee families return to their farms and rehabilitate their homes. The rest will go back home this year. In the next 12 months, we will spend 500 million pesos from the OPEC Fund for community projects in these areas,” she said.

Six years later, the Social Welfare secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and international and local humanitarian groups are busy preparing for the expected mass evacuations, with a few thousands already doing so in Basilan, near the areas where the 14 Marines were killed, 10 of whom were beheaded.

The President in 2001 also vowed to make Mindanao “the gateway to ASEAN by putting back on track the East ASEAN Growth Area.”

“Inshala (actually “Inshallah,” meaning, “if Allah wills”),  mahimo tinuod ang saad sa Mindanao ubos sa akong adminstrasyon,” (If Allah wills, the promise of Mindanao will be fulfilled under my administration), she said.

The President said she gave the Armed Forces and the Police “the leeway to fight a treacherous and elusive enemy in Basilan. But it must end, and it will end soon, for good. The leadership of the Abu Sayyaf has started to fall. The crackdown has neutralized 130 of them. Many of them have come down from their mountains because they have been abandoned by their leaders. Itaga ninyo sa bato. Tatapusin natin ito.” (We will finish this).

On the peace process, she said, “while the AFP stands ready to protect our people at a moment’s notice, we will continue to talk with the MILF and the National Democratic Front as along as all sides maintain good faith.”

Six years later, she refers to the NDF as “terrorists” and the peace negotiation with the MILF has yet to resume.

In her seventh SONA tomorrow, how will she explain what has happened to her “all out peace” vow when she assumed the Presidency in January 2001?  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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