Why are we in this CSO Summit on the Bangsamoro Peace Process?

(Opening remakrs at the  CSO Summit on the Bangsamoro Peace Talks, Apo View Hotel, Davao City on July 3, 2013 by Ms Patricia M. Sarenas, chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 July) – CSOs (Civil Society Organizatons) have a long history of “journeying” with the various peace processes – both formal and informal) in Mindanao.  Some of us are now much older than when we were when we first started seriously engaging the key players in many peace talks.   For indeed, it’s been a long time – of dreaming, of hoping that our dreams for a just peace in Mindanao would become a reality.

When asked to give the rationale for our coming together today, I said I will not walk through those many years – where we failed and where there were some victories.  I said I will just focus on the reason why we are here today – To take action on a most urgent concern – the Bangsamoro peace talks.

259 days ago, on October 7, 2012- a special day for two of our dearest friends in the social development and peace movement in Mindanao – Raissa Jajurie and Guiamel Alim – the special day became even more special and memorable because at exactly 12 noon that day, Pres. Benigno C. Aquino, III, went on national television to announce the forging of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.  Gathered in Malacanang were members of the Cabinet, Congress and the security forces and even representatives from the diplomatic corps. 

He began his speech with this words:

“Dalawang henerasyon na po ang lumilipas mula noong magsimula ang hidwaan sa Mindanao. Isang siklo ng karahasang umangkin sa buhay ng mahigit isandaang libong Pilipino—hindi lamang ng mga kawal at mandirigma, kundi pati mga inosenteng sibilyang dumanak ang dugo dahil sa alitang puwede namang naiwasan.

Marami na pong solusyong sinubok upang matapos ang hidwaang ito; nakailang peace agreement na po tayo, ngunit hindi pa rin tayo umuusad tungo sa katuparan ng ating mga pangarap para sa rehiyon. Nabigyan ng poder ang ilan, ngunit imbes na iangat ang kaledad ng buhay sa rehiyon, nagbunga ito ng istrukturang lalo silang iginapos sa kahirapan….”

Furthermore, he said

“The ARMM is a failed experiment. Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun. We cannot change this without structural reform.
This is the context that informed our negotiations throughout the peace process. And now, we have forged an agreement that seeks to correct these problems. It defines our parameters and our objectives, while upholding the integrity and sovereignty of our nation.
This agreement creates a new political entity, and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro.
We are doing everything to ensure that other Bangsamoro stakeholders are brought in to this process so that this peace can be claimed and sustained by all…”

On October 15, in Malacanang Palace, The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed by the Chairs of the GPH panel and the MILF Panel, Dean Marvic Leonen and Mohagher Iqbal, in the presence of His Excellency Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia; Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Chairman of the MILF; His Excellency Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Datuk Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, Malaysian facilitator of the GPH and MILF peace talks.  There must have hundreds there in that cramped hall in Malacanang. And emotions were so strong, described by most who were there- as a real high, euphoria — when the framework was signed.

On that historic day, PNoy said

“Today, we sign a Framework Agreement that can finally seal genuine, lasting peace in Mindanao. In full view of the Filipino people, and witnessed even by our friends from different parts of the world, we commit to peace: A peace that will be sustained through democratic ideals; a peace that heals and empowers; a peace that recognizes the many narratives of the Filipino people, and weaves them into a single, national aspiration for equitable progress.
… Let me now echo both panels’ challenge to the people: Much work remains to be done in order to fully reap the fruits of this Framework Agreement. We have commitments to fulfill, people to lead, and dreams to achieve. The details to be laid out in the annexes, in particular, provide us with a solid opportunity to expand the common ground whose principles we have already articulated through the agreement. I am confident that our faith in each other, and in the Filipino people, will not waver, and in fact will only grow even stronger in the years to come.”
…I ask the entire nation, and the entire world, to join me in imagining: A Mindanao finally free from strife, where people achieve their fullest potential. A child in Lamitan will be offered the same education as a child in Quezon City; the sick of Patikul will gain access to the same healthcare as those in Pasig; tourists visiting Boracay will also have Sulu in their itineraries; a businessman will earn a profit whether he sets up shop in Marikina or Marawi. People will be empowered; they will gain knowledge and marketable skills that will thrust the economy forward. From constant displacement, there will be now a stable employment. Children who have had to witness immeasurable suffering will now get to witness a harvest; sons and daughters who have had to sweep bullet casings from their yards will now get to pick fruit; families who once cowered in fear of gunshots will now emerge from their homes to a bright new dawn of equity, justice, and peace.
Together, we move forward with a conviction to lift each other, so that in turn, our nation may grow and reach greater heights. We implore God, or Allah, to continue guiding all of us, so that our dreams may turn into concrete, tangible realities.”

It’s been 251 days since that historic signing of the FAB on October 15, 2013 in Malacanang.  Now we are here, gathered as representatives of civil society organizations and the communities we serve in Mindanao.  What has happened or did not happen in those 251 days?  In a while we will see how where the talks are in the road map that was drawn to implement the agreement.

We all are aware – and that is why, on a very short notice, we came to this CSO Summit on the Bangsamoro Peace Talks – that there are so many questions now as to whether the FAB can be pursued to its rightful conclusion – the establishment of the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.

Yesterday at a smaller meeting at the Oxfam office, we tried to come up with the most appropriate theme or title for this gathering and we all agreed that the title must signify our reason for coming together – that is we all feel the Urgency for Peace in Mindanao and therefore, we are here to craft our collective statement calling on both the GPH and the MILF to sign and Implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  For we have heard the speeches loud and clear, not just from the President but from our other leaders expressing their support for the FAB and all related processes leading up to the creation of the Bangsamoro.

PNoy himself said But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. We are now at the beginning of a comprehensive agreement that will map out the detailed steps, detailed commitments, and detailed programs that will lead to the fulfillment of our long-term goals…”

Many of us have been involved in orientation workshops and learning sessions about the FAB, not just to explain the roadmap but also to get people’s possible contribution to the whole process as we walked them through the roadmap and pointed out the junctures  where CSOs and the communities can “intervene”.

We have taken such a big “leap of faith” and have trusted that the process will go smoothly and the day when the Bangsamoro is finally created will happen before the end of the administration of PNoy in 2016.

To admit that we are worried is not to say that we no longer want, that we no longer are willing  to take more “leaps of faith.”   We are here now because we want to do something even as we call on all concerned parties – PNoy and his entire administration and the MILF to feel the urgency of our calls for the conclusion of the talks and the creation of the Bangsamoro.

The 17th century Enlightenment philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, wrote that “peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.”

The breakthrough for peace in Mindanao –  the FAB and the new structures created – the TC (Transition Commission) and the TPMT (Third Party Monitoring Team) – these are all expressions of an agreement to chart an enduring agreement for peace that returns us to Spinoza’s age-old wisdom

It is not simply that we look to the future with the guns of war silenced or turned into ploughshares, as it were, but that as we continue to believe in the process – we engender a new consciousness of peace and peace-building for Mindanao and the rest of the country. A new peace pact and Basic Law will, in fact, serve to begin a process of healing and if not the full recompense of historic injustices, a fuller recognition of identity and ethos of the Bangsamoro.

And so today, we gather to commit to taking that leap of faith – and as peace advocates, to raise our voices to urge that the peace agreement be signed and implemented.  For the nonce, this GPH-MILF peace processes must move on with a greater sense of urgency for  like new rain on parched earth, this agreement would allow for new possibilities and promise for Mindanao.

We cannot but seize this with blazing hope – and as Baruch Spinoza and his magnum opus “Ethics” would have it, move the country into a new state of mind, with a “disposition for benevolence, confidence and justice.”

To conclude, our wish for all of us – an open and trusting sharing and a commitment to participate in the crafting our collective statement and our plans for the next steps to take. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her views on peace in Mindanao. Ms Patricia Sarenas is chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs and the national Caucus of Development NGO Networks or CODE-NGO).