PEACETALK: The Grand Gesture

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 August)  — Those who were surprised by President Aquino’s initiative to reach out to the MILF top leadership may have two things in mind. Either the President was ill advised or he is after all capable of exercising and demonstrating strong political will as he is genuinely convinced that negotiating a political settlement with the MILF is correct.

The historic and exceptional meeting between President Noynoy Aquino and MILF Chairman Murad on August 4 in Japan strikes a very good chord in the much coveted but very elusive pursuit of peace in Mindanao. It proved that thinking out of the box, creative imagination and dialogue are essential elements of peacebuilding and peace processes.

I will not dwell on the notion that the President was ill-advised.  It was the President’s decision to initiate the meeting with the MILF Chairman which the MILF peace panel regarded as a grand gesture. Those who think and are criticizing this move are the ones who are ill-advised or are narrow-minded.  They may also be those who have other vested interests that may be jeopardized if a peace agreement is achieved with the MILF.  They may also be the uninformed (I do not want to call them ignorant) who are not aware of lessons in peace negotiations around the world and how peace processes are replete with stories of the same events of similar nature in other countries. In this country, recent history reminds us that the former President Cory Aquino, the mother of the current President, held a meeting with the MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari that paved the way for the peace negotiations which yielded the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the MNLF after years of failed attempts at reaching a deal dating back to 1976.

For me, there were two notable remarks that apparently came out of the exchange during the meeting between the President and the MILF Chairman. One, that the MILF Chair believed in the sincerity of President Aquino. Two, that they both agreed to fast track the peace negotiations in order that implementation of any agreement will be carried out under the current administration. This, to me, is a leap of faith.

I hope and pray that this grand gesture is translated into constructive perception of both parties toward each other that will lead to an affirmation and advance of the peace process.

As peace-loving citizens of Mindanao and of this country, we have to believe that just peace is possible. We have to realize that real progress cannot be achieved if armed conflicts persist in any part of this country.  Studies showed that “armed conflicts already rooted in maldevelopment and violations of basic human rights further disrupt efforts towards development and in addressing mass poverty.”  The 2011 World Development Report noted that while poverty is declining for much of the world, the countries affected by violence are lagging behind.

We therefore have to be vigilant in order to guard this current stage of the peace process such that it will never be held hostage again by insincere, deceitful and intolerant elements and by selfish interests.  That we need to make our contributions no matter how small to ensure the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF in the shortest time possible. That we concerned citizens make sure we help in facilitating and not obstructing the process towards the attainment of a just and comprehensive politically negotiated settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk welcomes contributions from anyone who wants to say his/her piece on peace in Mindanao.  Carmen Lauzon-Gatmaytan is a program manager of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, the lead secretariat of the Mindanao Peaceweavers and council member of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus)