“We hate war!” – Cotabato peace rally participants

“I am tired of war,” said Bai Misceria Malasalagat who arrived here from Pagalungan, Maguindanao this morning on board a caravan of about 23 trucks. “We have been bakwits (evacuees) for 20 years already.” They are afraid, she said, that in case the talks would collapse, “there will be fighting again and we will suffer.”

“People aired their resentments against war, letting the world know that they hate war,” said Guiamel Alim, chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS), a network of 164 civil society organizations (CSOs) in Mindanao that convened the peace rally.

Bobby Benito, CBCS media committee chair, said that with the big turnout “we want Malacanang to listen to the pleas of the people and that their desire is for peace.”  He also said that the people are wary, noting “patterns in the past” where war breaks out every time the peace were on the verge of a milestone.

Much of the frustration is directed against the government whom rallyists accused of insincerity for allegedly not honoring the consensus points on ancestral domain that had earlier been agreed upon. “The government should be sincere and not deceptive,” said Ustadz Al-Maidan Gumander who cited Koranic verses on honor and integrity during his speech.  

High school student Hasmiene Ibrahmin, 16, who spoke on behalf of the youth sector,  said they are getting exasperated that her group now wants independence. “If we have our independent state, we will no longer be discriminated,” she said, citing instances when she was called a “terrorist” for wearing her hijab.

Hopes for the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on the ancestral domain issue that would have paved the way for a comprehensive peace agreement were dashed when a crucial meeting that was supposed to be held on December 15 to 17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia did not push through.

“The jubilation was short-lived, dreams were shattered,” said Alim who noted that pronouncements of both parties in the past months were optimistic. “It made a lot of people frustrated but many still keep hoping.”

 

Talks hit a snag when the MILF negotiating panel refused to meet its GRP counterpart because the government draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain did not contain much of the consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.

The GRP also inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow constitutional process, according to the CSOs.

“The signing of the MOA on the ancestral domain issue could had been the best Christmas gift for the Filipinos and a memorable reward for the Muslims in their celebration of   Eid’ul Adha this year,” the CSOs said in a manifesto.  

The CSOs also appealed to both parties to refrain from any unnecessary actions that may jeopardize the peace talks. “It would now be an acid test for CSOs to stay on guard to prevent violence from taking place and to bring back the parties into dialogue to discuss contentious issues,” said Alim.

They also raised questions of possibilities to find “a creative and acceptable means of pursuing the implementation of the consensus points without violating the constitution.”

“Will it not be possible for the government to make use of all the consensus and agreed upon points as its basis for amending or adding provisions of the constitution to fit to the need of signing a comprehensive and acceptable political agreement with the Moro people?,” it added.

“Veering away and watering down the consensus points and invoking the constitutional process as a means to pursue a political agreement is tantamount to a betrayal of a “gentlemen’s agreement” and lack of sincerity on the part of the government to find peace in Mindanao.”

The statement also said that “the government could not hide in the mantle of the Bangsamoro’s lack of unity as an excuse to shift away from its commitment to the peace process with the MILF in general and the consensus points reached in particular.”

The CSOs also called on the international community to help push the peace process forward and to exert pressures to the parties to honor and abide by whatever commitments they have made in the course of their negotiations.

Peace rallies are scheduled to be held in Marawi City on Wednesday and in General Santos City on Friday. Peace rallies will also be held in Davao City, Zamboanga City, Pagadian City, Isabela City in Basilan, and Jolo, Sulu within the month. (Charina Sanz Zaratre/MindaNews)

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