PEACETALK: There is no path to peace, the path is peace

A privilege speech by Rep. Pangalian M. Balindong
Congressman, 2nd District, Lanao del Sur
August 8, 2011

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues:

At an age when most youngsters are struggling to unravel the secrets of mathematics and language, at an age when first love blooms, at the tender age of sixteen, most Filipino Muslims of my generation were handed a rifle so that they could defend themselves.

For such is life, Mr. Speaker, at the center of conflict in Muslim Mindanao which has now lasted for close to 40 years.

To date, this conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives, many of them innocent civilians. More than a million people have been rendered homeless and destitute. More than 300,000 refugees have taken refuge in neighboring Sabah, Malaysia and many more have moved to Manila and other parts of the country in search of security.

For the Filipino Muslim today, Mr. Speaker— who has been steeped in a life of hardship and war— peace building is not just an economic necessity, but a fiercely urgent one.

The path to peace is fraught with difficulties and pain, Mr. Speaker. For the Bangsa Moro people, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war.

And I say this to you as a Filipino Muslim who sees the pain of my people:  For us, for our children, and in my case, for our grandchildren, I want this government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive, just and honorable peace in Mindanao.

This is the reason why today, Mr. Speaker, the people of Lanao del Sur and Filipino Muslims everywhere wish to express our deepest gratitude and appreciation to His Excellency, President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III, for initiating the historic meeting with Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Al Haj Murad Ibrahim — the first between a head of state and the MILF since the on-again, off-again peace talks started 14 years ago.

The two-hour meeting, which took place in a hotel near the Narita airport in Tokyo,  was a much needed shot in the arm for a peace process which has been steadily losing public support due to delays, Mr. Speaker.

Before this, Mr. Speaker, the level of confidence in the peace process among Muslims had been steadily going down, but the Tokyo meeting has suddenly revived our  people’s interest and trust in government’s goodwill and ability to kick-start peace negotiations.

There are those who have understandably expressed concern over what seems to have been a risky overture on the President’s part, Mr. Speaker, but I sincerely hope that we do not get lost in the irrelevant details, and instead focus, on what the President achieved during the meeting – the MILF’s commitment to a peace agreement within five years.

This government is following a courageous and correct course, Mr. Speaker, by moving forward with resolve until we achieve our longed-for peace.

This is a time for maturity, a time for responsibility, a time for reason. It is a time to return to the negotiating table. We must continue to negotiate, earnestly and tirelessly, until a final peace agreement is reached. No other way will do.

The process will be difficult, Mr. Speaker. We have much hard work before us. There will be ups and downs; there will undoubtedly be crises along the way.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, we must continue to strictly reject the voices of the spoilers — the voices of doom, of incitement and discord.  Because peace cannot be achieved under threat, there can be no progress towards reconciliation under incitement, and there can be no confidence in peace along a mine-strewn path of fear. THERE IS NO PATH TO PEACE, MR. SPEAKER, THE PATH IS PEACE.

My people envision a permanent peace settlement based on this clear principle, Mr. Speaker:  That those who claim to desire peace, and yet think little of chronic malnutrition, are men who want sunshine with no sky. For peace must be measured against standards of nutrition, education and self-government. Our people cannot be at peace unless they have food on the table; the ability to read and write; and the power to chart their own course.

Today, distinguished colleagues, we are in the midst of building the peace.  The architects and the engineers of this enterprise are engaged in their work even as we gather here today, building the peace, layer by layer, brick by brick.

I hope the Moro Islamic Liberation Front joins us in this work of peace, Mr. Speaker.  For the traditional arguments shaping the Mindanao conflict have changed, and we must go beyond the original narrative of rebellion to shed light on changing political and economic conditions.  While the language of secession has been gradually replaced by a discourse on some form of autonomy,  the original resentments continue to reverberate at the local level, as the gains from autonomy fail to improve peoples’ standards of living.

Forging peace is a difficult, complex, and trying task, Mr. Speaker. But under the leadership of an enlightened Presidency, we are determined to do the job well. We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude. We will not let up. We will not give in. Peace will triumph over all its enemies, and we will prevail.

May Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Merciful bless us all.  Thank you, Mr. Speaker, thank you distinguished colleagues.