THE SEPARATIST: ?Yong? Afable

For these folks, all that comes out of the state then is evil and not worth considering. The irony of course is that once they come to power, the very “evil features” of the state that they once denounced, they readily adopt (albeit with different names). Thus the Tsarist Cheka became the Soviet NKVD, then KGB, the Dutch colonial laws became the regulations of the Indonesian Republic, the autocracy of the Chinese imperial system adopted to turn Mao Tse Tung into the Great Helmsman.  Our local communist lords now refer to Joema Sison as “The Leader,” no different from how their reactionary rivals once hailed Marcos as “Ang Pangulo” or Magsaysay as “The Guy.” Personality cults cutting across ideologies.

States are gray matters; their coercive nature often intermeshes with some of their nobler regulations and intentions. Take the case of the peace negotiations between the Arroyo government and the fundamentalist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for example. The lead negotiator for the government Secretary Silvestre “Yong” Afable surprised many of us who listened to his talk on the issue in Tokyo two weeks ago.

We were all looking forward to hearing the usual government spin on the peace process (the blah blah about commitments to peace, the difficulties in the negotiations, the perseverance, then the request for help from rich Japan). But no. Afable was honest, professional and frank in explaining the government position. He gave no B.S., nor did he try to over talk just to limit the time for questions. He gave us an honest heads-up on what was happening.

He also surprised us. Knowing that what was foremost in our minds was the government’s response to the MILF’s hard-line position of a Bangsamoro homeland, Afable had this to say:

“On the negotiating table, we have offered a political settlement based on self-determination that strives to unify the Bangsamoro people rather than divide them, for them to finally live in a homeland rather than a rented territory paid for in blood and suffering. We are crossing bridges of understanding that others have never ventured to do in the past.”

I underscored the phrase “live in a homeland rather than a rented territory” because this is the first time ever that the government has conceded the notion of a Bangsamoro homeland. The 1996 peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front never mentioned such a phrase; in fact the government subtly reinforced the pre-eminence of the Philippine territory. The Arroyo government has quietly removed that obstacle in the negotiating table.

The embodiment of this new position is the government proposal for the creation of a council of leaders who will figure out and implement the kind of system that will govern this homeland. This “Bangsamoro Juridical Authority” will eventually replace the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao as the governing body. Lumad and Christians will be appointed in it, and will sit alongside representatives of the various Moro groups and sectors. Afable said the mechanics are being threshed out between the two parties, with the aid and support of nations from the European Union and Japan (Oddly he did not mention the U.S.).

 

Episodes like this give us hope. Perhaps in a few years, the guns will become silent in Mindanao, and the fundamental differences that caused the rebellions be resolved. And for this we will have to thank one agency of this much-reviled government and the people behind it.  [This essay was first published in Philippine Free Press, on May 15, 2007]

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