Now that I am retired from academe – but still finishing my PhD — and no longer involved in the formal peace process, allow me to write about my intimate reflections as a Mindanao historian on the peace process.
The experience was both fulfilling and agonizing. As a student journalist and a news reporter for a provincial newspaper in the mid-sixties and as an academic since the late sixties I have always relished the mutually reinforcing academic freedom and freedom of speech and the responsibility that went with it. There is freedom but there is also the responsibility to be accurate and uphold the truth. Whether as an active journalist or as a practicing historian, I am deeply aware of the painstaking tasks of having to dig up every little detail from every possible source to be able to reconstruct a past event. And when one is able to put together a respectable article, or a scholarly paper as academics would love to describe their output, one knows that it will never be the complete version of the event, especially if no eyewitness account is found, or the report of one near enough to the event. The rule of the thumb is that the version nearest to the event is the more reliable. Better if the story is written by a participant. Or best if the versions are those of the various participants. Imagine the excitement of the moment when a historian discovers a diary of a participant (s) or an eyewitness account. It is the dream of every historian or of every journalist.
Not surprisingly, many historian-friends have expressed healthy envy that I was in the peace process, both in the GRP-MNLF and GRP-MILF peace negotiations. As part of the GRP peace panel, I was both participant and observer, me and all my five senses. Even when asleep I was still a participant, like having to sleep on the same floor as the Bangsamoro rebels and their guns. I was both at ringside and inside the ring. They are deeply aware and I agree fully that history was being made; historic wrongs are being corrected, new social adjustments are being formulated, new relationships are being designed. This is the best place a historian could ever hope to be in; he is part of the story. The story of the aborted MOA-AD is a good case in point. In practically every forum I go to, there is always a question on the inside story. What exactly happened behind the scenes? They could only wait in the sidelines for the process to end before they could have access to sensitive data, or for tidbits of information that are published in the newspapers.
I have written about the GRP-MNLF peace talks (Kalinaw Mindanaw: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996), but given the psychological impact of the non-signing of the GRP-MILF MOA-AD and the dissolution of the GRP Panel, I cannot say how soon I can get around to writing this particular episode. I am not disposed to do it, not now.
In one of my recent public appearances, a fellow historian has curiously asked how the peace processes have affected my being a historian. That was not an easy one to answer. I explained that my training in historiography is to respect historical evidence as I find it; draw conclusions only on the basis of a given evidence; stand by the truth that I uncover. It is true that within the bigger event of the peace process, I am witness to many little events that sometimes come in full contrast, juicy and dry, dramatic and dull, exciting and discouraging, encouraging and demoralizing, life and death, or downright embarrassing. And this is where the agony sets in… because I cannot write about everything that I am witness to.
I have been transformed by the peace process. What I have realized over time is that the peace process has its own ultimate goal, that, is to create a relationship of peace and harmony between protagonists and antagonists in a war. Mutual confidence takes years to build up, block by block, sentence by sentence, sometimes, word by word. Perhaps that is the reason why it is called a peace process, accent on process because peace is really a psychological human process. When mutual trust has reached a desired level, that is the point when both parti
es are disposed to sign an agreement. But because of the psychological sensitivity of the circumstances within which the level of trust has been reached it will be the height of disservice to peace if a historian, in the name of truth, would write about a juicy event that is embarrassing or offensive to either party. One wrong word can destroy what took so long to construct.
My most important learning: commitment to peace is a higher moral responsibility than unqualified commitment to truth. Put in the concrete situation of the peace process, historiography must bend to give way to peace. One must choose which truth to write about, the truth that builds or the truth that destroys. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Rudy Buhay Rodil is a Mindanao Historian and member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front (1993-1996) and with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front from August 2004 until the panel’s dissolution on September 3, 2008).