PEACETALK. Keynote Address of Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, 6th Mindanao Media Summit

Keynote Message of Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
On the Occasion of the 6th Mindanao Media Summit

Garden Oases Resort, Davao City
November 5, 2010, 2:15 PM

(Salutations)

Congratulations … for this successful summit, already the 6th and expectedly a much improved one given the six regional media consultations that preceded it. This is the second time I have been asked to grace this occasion, the first one during your 2nd Media Summit held in March, 2004, in Malagos, Calinan, also here in Davao City.  I have learned that you have made much progress since then.  I was informed that conducting regional media conferences prior to the summit has always been your dream to ensure that the regions are well-represented, to gain better participation and more intense discussion in the summit.  Congratulations for this dream come true.  This is one indicator that you are making significant headway in getting yourself organized, which is good for you, good for Mindanao, good for peace in the country.  I especially appreciate your presenting this summit as “the media’s way of ensuring its continuing positive outlook and support to the government’s peace and development program in Mindanao.”

In behalf of P.Noy’s Administration, I would like to express our appreciation for being the kind of media that you are, who have taken consistent efforts to not only live up to the highest standards of truthful, balanced, and accurate reporting, but also to have actively committed to your role as stakeholders of peace in Mindanao.  Thank you for ensuring greater public understanding and awareness of the complex issues attending the peace process, instead of simply heightening images and sources that tend to overvalue violent responses to conflict.  Local media usually has a deeper understanding of the existing political structures, and has a greater ability to either accelerate and magnify fears and biases, or reduce them.  Thank you for exercising this power responsibly. Thank you for focusing your reports on the areas of agreement, instead of choosing to only report about the differences between parties.  Thank you for leading the public to good news when it happens, instead of focusing on only the bad news and sensationalizing it to get public attention.   Thank you for presenting various peaceful options available, instead of simply presenting situations of conflicts as zero-sum situations.  Thank you for presenting stories of little-known heroes, for not overlooking to also present the views and situations of women, children, and other vulnerable sectors.

Time and again, various groups and sectors have fully affirmed media’s critical role in waging peace.  But given the grave physical threats that reporters experience in their coverage, in addition to the previous administration’s lack of respect for the basic rights and freedoms of the media people, it is necessary to never tire in affirming the media for the tenacity of its commitment, and for its brave efforts to live up to its role as one important pillar of democracy.

More than just making this affirmation, it is important to also give you the assurance that the leadership of P.Noy will do its best to ensure that you are never muzzled, harassed, manipulated and intimidated and that the full exercise of your rights as members of the media will be firmly protected and safeguarded no matter how hard-hitting your criticisms may become.  The Philippines has become one of the “most dangerous assignments” for media practitioners, together with Iran and Iraq, and, truly, most serious efforts must be waged to assure you of the atmosphere of openness and safety. Needless to say, we need to continue to have a free, independent, and objective media to protect the peace.

This affirmation and assurance are important and timely to make especially as we approach the first anniversary on November 23 of the terrible massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, in which so many of your colleagues perished last year.  And the theme of your annual gathering this year, “Mindanao 2020: Moving Forward,” is also very timely looking forward to the celebration of Eid’l Adha on 16 November and the Mindanao Week of Peace from November 25 to December 1.

Given the theme of this year’s Summit, I very much welcome this opportunity to make a report to you on the progress and direction of the work in the peace front thus far.

My task here is to present the Government’s Peace and Development Agenda for Southern Philippines.  But before I lay out what the current administration has been doing and intending to do in order to pursue a political settlement to the armed conflict in the region, I wish to situate you first on where we are in the peace process.  In this light, I wish not to strictly focus on just the GRP-MILF peace negotiations but on the larger picture of President Aquino’s policy framework on peace and security.

Peace, and even more so the peace in Mindanao, has always been high in the consciousness of the Aquino administration.  When then-Senators Aquino and Roxas filed their certificates of candidacy last November, 2009, they published a full-page ad laying out what they termed A Social Contract with the Filipino People.  It was not called a platform nor a promise or plege but was deliberately conceived as a “contract”; thus, a binding agreement which they wished to enter into with the Filipino people.  The Social Contract constituted of 16 provisions at the time of publication; one more would be added after it was published.  Of these 16 provisions, no. 14 focused on the issue of peace in Mindanao, which expressed the intent to move: From a disjointed, short-sighted Mindanao policy that merely reacts to events and incidents, to one that seeks a broadly-supported just peace and will redress decades of neglect of the Moro and other peoples of Mindanao. You will note that, from the start, there was expressed recognition of Mindanao as the home of different and distinct peoples.

President Aquino has emphasized that our quest must not only focus on ensuring stability of the State and the security of our nation.  Our ultimate goal must be the safety and well-being of our people.  To repeat, this administration sets as its ultimate goal not the stability of the State or the security of the nation – certainly not the defence and protection of the President – but  rather the safety and well-being of our people.

This security framework was detailed by the President when he was still a candidate for the presidency, in a speech that he delivered at the Peace and Security Forum held at the Mandarin Hotel on April 22, 2010.  In pointing the way forward under the Aquino administration, allow me to quote liberally from the major headings (or highlighted sections or assertions) from this speech.  As this is an audience of media practitioners, let me guide you through the story line of his speech, as follows:

  • Then presidential aspirant Aquino started by referring to the context of the upcoming presidential elections and the astounding announcement then by the Secretary of Justice that key personalities implicated in the perpetration of the Ampatuan massacre would be released.  The first highlighted statement of the President’s speech thus reads: The situation in the ARMM and in other conflict areas in Mindanao reveal how the (then-)present administration merely paid lip service to the quest for true peace, security and progress.
  • He then states the imperative arising from this situation.  He said:  The next administration (which, we all know turned out to be his own administration) will have to pick up the pieces and resume the quest for peace with vigour and clarity of purpose.
  • He then defines his perspective and framework in addressing the issue of security, the line I had quoted earlier:  Our quest must not only focus on ensuring stability of the State and the security of our nation.  Our ultimate goal must be the safety and well-being or our people.
  • This he eloaborates:  Thus, our National Security Policy must focus on 4 key elements:

(1) Governance – maayos na pamamahala – P.Noy’s campaign slogan was – “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap“: ang kaunlaran ng bayan ay makakamit lamang sa ilalim ng tuwid na pamamahala;

(2) Delivery of Basic Servicesmga batayang serbisyo, na ang nangunguna ay ang basic education at health services, lalong-lalo na ang maternal and child health, pati na ang sanitation facilities;

(3) Economic Reconstruction and Sustainable Development, with the main message being that conflict areas will not be left behind – walang maiiwanan; and

(4) Security Sector Reform – The security sector agenda contained in his speech underscore the imperatives to (a) restore professionalism and meritocracy in our security institutions, (b) insulate security forces from partisan politics, (c) provide mission-essential equipment and basic training to our security forces, and (d) curb the endemic corruption that eats away at our security organizations.

  • Good governance, delivery of basic services, Economic reconstruction and sustainable development, security sector reform: these constitute the four pillars of our government’s security policy, but very conscious that areas of the country are still racked with internal armed conflict, his closing remarks focus on the promise: We must revive the peace process on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of the conflict, under clear policies that pave a clear way ahead, and driven by a genuine desire to attain a just and lasting peace.  We shall endeavour to restore confidence in the peace process that is transparent and participative, and renew our faith in our shared vision of a peaceful, secure and prosperous future under one sovereign flag.

In his April 22 speech, the President stated that “Within the first 3 months of or my administration, the next National Security Adviser must complete the drafting of a comprehensive National Security Policy for the approval of the National Security Council.”  He also committed that “This vital document should be a product of consultations from various stakeholders.”  A little behind schedule, I am pleased to share with you that Memorandum Order No. 6 – Directing the Formulation of the National Security Policy and National Security Strategy for 2010-2016 was signed by the President on 21 October 2010.  The Memorandum Order directs the National Security Adviser to spearhead this effort, “in coordination with all concerned departments, agencies and instrumentalities of the government including government-owned and controlled corporations and regional offices.”  It reiterates the four key elements of the National Security Policy as I have earlier discussed.  It sets the deadline for the submission of the Policy to  the National Security Cabinet Group on or before November 30, 2010, and the National Security Strategy on or before April 30, 2011.  Finally, the Memorandum Order stipulates that “All sectors of society, both government and non-government, are enjoined to participate in this national endeavour in order to arrive at a national consensus on our development objectives and national security policies.”

The government’s determination to achieve peace in Mindanao were again highlighted in the President’s Inaugural Address on June 30 and his State of the Nation Address last July.   As you all know, last July 15, President Aquino named the current Dean of the UP College of Law, Dean Marvic F. Leonen, as Chair of the Government Negotiating Panel for Peace Talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  This was followed by the appointment of Former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani, with extensive experience in pushing successful and sustainable agricultural enterprise in Central Mindanao; UP Political Science Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, a prime mover of peace research across the different conflict lines in the country, seasoned peace advocate and founder of Sulong CAHRIHL; and two reputable Mindanawons – the multi-awarded local chief executive and incumbent Maguindanao town Vice Mayor Ramon Piang Sr,, a Teduray, and lawyer, academician and alim Hamid Barra, appointed by President Aquino as Amerul Hajj for the ongoing Islamic pilgrimage. With the completion of the newly-reconstituted panel and their exercise of due diligence in reviewing all past signed agreements and joint statements and agreed-upon peace mechanisms, the GRP Panel for peace talks with the MILF has been ready to take their place at the negotiating table since the end of Ramadan, as announced by the P.Noy in his SONA.

This same commitment is being carried out in our peace track with the MNLF. Despite challenges besetting the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, our government reiterates its commitment to bring closure to this peace track on mutually- agreed terms, with due diligence and utmost sincerity. It will participate fully towards completing the tripartite process that was started under the previous administration with the current work being principally focused on jointly drawing up a draft amendatory law to address the limitations of the existing Organic Act in accordance with the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. We look forward to the process firmly and officially advancing with the first tripartite meeting to be convened by Indonesia at the end of this month.

The recent reconstitution of the Government Peace Negotiating Panel for Talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front and the designation of Atty. Alex D. Padilla as the government’s chief negotiator signalled P.Noy’s resolve in restarting the peace process while addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.  In addition, the closure of respective peace tracks with the Cordillera People’s Army (CPLA) in northern Luzon and the RPMP-RPA-ABB primarily in the Visayas, is being vigorously pursued.

To avoid making the mistakes of the past government and restore confidence in the peace process, the President has approved the establishment of an advisory body to the different peace panels which will be drawn from the representatives of our legislature, members of the 1987 Constitutional Commission, former justices of the Supreme Court, former chairs of the government negotiating panels, and representatives of local government.  The President has specifically stressed the need for representatives from local government to be part of the advisory body which will be regularly consulted by the panel.

As well, last August 4, we convened an assembly, which was noted to have drawn in the broadest range of peace networks nationwide, as the first step in determining the structures and mechanisms by which we can ensure sustained consultation and engagement in the peace process involving as much as possible the full range of concerned sectors, communities, and peace constituencies.  To ensure that these consultation mechanisms are meaningful and sustained, we have asked our civil society peace partners to let us know how and on what levels they wish to engage the process, what structures and mechanisms they wish to put in place, and what support, if any, they wish to receive from government.  We are awaiting more concrete signals from them as to what direction they want to bring the engagement, even as we hope to be able to convene another gathering to update our civil society partners on the different ongoing peace tracks before people go on Christmas holiday.

Let me also say here that we are providing support for the review and consolidation of the results of different consultations that have been carried out by civil society, academe, and faith-based groups, primarily but not exclusively based in Mindanao, to draw out the varied perspectives, as close to the ground as possible, on the Mindanao peace process and development agenda, the results of which we hope will be ready for public presentation before the end of the year.

It is the intent of this government to ensure that when it makes its exit in 2016, there shall be no ongoing armed conflict left for it to hand over for the next administration to settle.  Peace negotiations and completed implementation of signed peace agreements with existing armed opposition groups is one track.  A complementary track is, however, necessary to pursue good governance and development in conflict-affected areas.  Cognizant of the relationship between peace and development, or, placed in negative formulation, as the relationship between violent conflict and poverty and deprivation, and fully convinced that that peace is made not just on the negotiating table but must be waged as vigorously on the ground, the government shall seek to close the gap between what happens on the negotiating table and what happens in the communities affected by armed conflict.

Government will not await the conclusion of peace negotiations before starting to address the wide-spread, complex and inter-generational impact of armed conflict in affected communities.  We believe that these efforts will help to provide an environment conducive for the talks and to gain the support and trust of all the stakeholders in the peace process.  We hope that our dialogue partners on the other side of the negotiating table will agree to work together to bring development to conflict-affected communities while looking for and building common ground to find permanent solutions to age-old issues of contestation and grievance.

Under this track, the pursuit of a just and lasting peace shall be pursued at the community level, particularly in conflict-affected and vulnerable communities.  Socio-economic rehabilitation and development of these areas that help provide and strengthen the essential building blocks of peace, particularly in terms of basic service delivery, good governance, human security, and sustainable development, shall be pursued.  Appropriately designed community-based or community-driven projects shall be the anchor of this track.

The approach will support rebuilding of communities and activities for peace and reconciliation initiated by communities. It will also focus on vulnerable households, especially IDP families, indigenous peoples, former rebels and adopt an integrated approach to understanding and addressing the issues at the household, community, and sub-regional levels. It will have a strong social preparation component, including community organizing, orientation, and trainings for capacity-development. It will pursue the convergence of efforts of national agencies but will also heavily draw the support of local governments, local CSOs, and international development partners to ensure sustainability.  It will do an environmental scan to ensure that, at the end of the road, these communities have the means for continued progress and growth and that further sources of conflict, including contestation over land and natural resources, are addressed.

This national program for peace-building, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development in conflict-affected areas (CAAs), through the Payapa at Masasaganag Pamayanan (PAMANA) program, is the government’s “flagship” response to conflict through development.  PAMANA will aim to reduce poverty and vulnerability in conflict affected areas; improve governance; and strengthen people’s capacity to engage governments in development.

In an unprecedented effort of convergence among civilian agencies across the social, economic, and governance and political clusters, and between civilian agencies and the security establishment, OPAPP is providing oversight and coordination to complete the road map that will ensure that what the P.Noy government starts, it will finish.  The President has instructed us to ensure that we do not start anything without first determining where it will end, that we do not raise expectations and hopes that we do not have more than a fair share of guarantees of fulfilling.

The Philippine Government is strengthening its capabilities to advance the rights, welfare and aspirations of Muslim Filipinos as well as those of the inhabitants of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.  The President echoed this commitment in his Eid’l Fitr speech last September 13.  In President Aquino’s words:

… I am committed to ending decades of government neglect that has afflicted Muslim Filipinos.

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos will be strengthened. It will be our principal arm in advancing the rights, welfare and aspirations of Muslim Filipinos.

We will support and strengthen the Autonomous Regional Government. It will be our lead government instrumentality in advancing the welfare of the inhabitants of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao…

…With my cabinet, we will make government institutions advance the welfare, aspirations and interests of our Muslim brethren. [end of quote]

Indeed, the peaceful path to a just and sustainable peace for our people will be difficult to traverse; the way ahead may be littered by landmines. But we have no choice: ang prosesong pangkapayapaan ay parte ng daang matuwid na dapat nating lakbayin para makamit ang maayos at progresibong lipunang nararapat para sa mga nagkakaibang mga Pilipino.

In closing, let me express my sincerest appreciation for covering news from the ground the way you do.  For embracing your roles as also stakeholders for peace, you have not only helped ensure the lessening of casualties on the ground, but you have also enabled the bridging of critical gaps especially when efforts to keep the peace stall. You are heroes. I welcome a closer working relationship with you in the next six years.

Let us stay the course. Let us keep the faith. Let us win the peace for our children and our children’s children.  Let us take hope in the closing words of President Aquino in his speech last April 22: “With this approach and with the consent of our people, I am confident that the next six years will be a watershed period in the history of our young nation that is at peace with itself and proudly marching towards an even brighter future.”

Maraming salamat at mabuhay kayo!

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