Advocates say peace is possible in Mindanao

The group went to Manila and met with Malacañang officials, diplomats, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in the aftermath of an impasse in the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


"We consider the mission a success in terms of broadening our support for the peace talks and symbolically asserting the grassroots voices in the whole discourse of peace and war in Mindanao," the group said it its statement.


The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) mission have returned "with renewed confidence and hope that peace is indeed possible," the group said Tuesday, the day set as deadline for the government to submit its proposal on territory, the last of four strands in the ancestral domain agenda, that caused the impasse in the peace talks.


The government panel has asked for an extension in submitting its proposal up to Nov. 15.


But the group said they relied only "on the assurances, promises and encouragements of the people that have met them in Manila."


They said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assured them that the peace process is the primary policy statement of the government and that the primacy of the peace process remains to be "her strategic policy for Mindanao."


The group, who got the assurance through Secretary Jesus Dureza, said they were pledged that they will be able to talk to the President when she returns from her foreign trip.


"That's about the message we wanted to hear and tell the people in Mindanao," lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, MPC secretary-general, said. "That draws the line between war and peace in the communities," she added.


The group said Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has pledged to look on the repercussions of the criminal complaint filed against MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Brahmin over the recent bombing in Makilala.


MPC viewed the case as a "thorn" threatening a total collapse of the peace talks. 


Representatives of 16 foreign embassies based in Metro Manila have also committed support with a plan to help find peace building models for Mindanao, the group said.


The plan includes a series of round-table discussions between international experts and the peace panels on peace processes.


Arnado said there is also a plan to hold the National Peace Conference on Mindanao after talking to representatives of the CBCP and Manila-based non-government organizations. The conference, Arnado said, aims to impress upon everyone that the conflict is not just the problem of Mindanaoans.   


Arnado also cited a plan from the office of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel to call a meeting of around 60 legislators from Mindanao to discuss and push for a "national peace agenda" highlighting that of the Mindanaoans.


Bai Lisa Saway, from Bukidnon's Talaandig tribe, said they are confident peace will prevail. She cited traditional peace agreements between Moro and non-Moro indigenous peoples even before the peace process. "Everlasting peace is possible," she said.


But the group also warned against overconfidence.


"Even if we are delighted, we are sober enough to be static. There are groups who don't really want peace," said Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), which is part of the MPC.


Arnado said they will do more lobbying with local government units as among the next steps after the mission.


She cited that the LGUs are a potent force but are excluded in the peace process. She alleged that the LGUs are threatened especially with a proposal on the territory strand. Arnado said the LGUs will gain if the peace agreement would be signed.


"But they too have many questions about the peace process. We need to bridge our efforts to the LGUs," she said.


The grassroots' group, who earlier met with the MILF peace panel last month, has appealed for the talks to continue and to exert creative solutions to break the current impasse.


MPC has called the mission as a "half step ahead" of preventing war. They pledged that people on the ground will go and barricade military camps instead of proceeding to evacuation camps in the event the impasse would lead to war again.