PEACETALK: Many and Differing Narratives… towards a Shared Vision and Shared Future?

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/13 April) — Whenever we speak of peacebuilding in Mindanao, we need to be reminded that there are several narratives both from within and without of the diverse inhabitants of the place.

The first is the IP (Indigenous Peoples) narrative. There are two narratives: the non-Islamized IPs whose narratives of their own ancestral domain, specific and tribal identity and RSD (right to self determination) that differ from the Islamized IPs that have their own narrative that follow the narratives of their Muslim neighbors.

The second is the narrative of the Muslims: There are, at least three narratives – the Traditional/Sultanates’ Narrative that tell of their origin and the dream of a return to their traditional roles before the conquest and before colonialism; then there is the Muslim Narrative that began in the 1950’s that continued until the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; and last, the Moro Narrative that began with Maas Nur Misuari in the establishment of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the early 1970’s that continues to the present (MNLF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front) — the Bangsamoro Narrative.

The third is the Christians and settlers’ narratives that began in the second decade of the 1900 to the third and fourth decades until the post WW II decades of the 1950’s and the 1960’s reaching its zenith in the partition of the Empire Province of Cotabato in 1965 (North Cotabato and South Cotabato) and later the further division of North Cotabato into three provinces of North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat following the election of the first Christian Governor (Carlos Cajelo) of original North Cotabato in the local elections of 1971.

Is there a possibility to weave these diverse narratives in our peacebuilding in Mindanao…?

In the past (as has been observed), we have established a Hegemonic Synthesis – Lanao Sur vs. Lanao Norte; North Cotabato vs. South Cotabato; Maguindanao vs. North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. Then we used to have Autonomous Region in Region IX and another Autonomous Region in Region XII. This was followed by ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) … All these past attempts were Hegemonic synthesis… failing to take into consideration the diversity and the many narratives of the peoples of the region.

Is it worthwhile and perhaps truly creative and innovative, that these many and diverse peoples take a look at the emerging concept of Bangsamoro… and see if it can be an expression of a reconciled diversity in our part of Mindanao.

There is the danger that the new political entity becomes yet another Hegemonic Synthesis. If this happens…, then it differs NOT from its predecessors…

There is a real new opportunity looming in the horizon for all the inhabitants of this part of Mindanao… to be united and reconciled… The MILF would be put to task, because this new political entity would be MILF-led. It would be real challenge for the MILF-led political entity to weave together our narratives and ‘craft’ a Basic Law that is Not Another Hegemonic Synthesis but a structure that bears the imprint not only of our diverse identities but also of ouir character…

Together we can forge a shared vision and a shared future… knowing fully well that our future and true empowerment as well as prosperity are intimately tied to each other…  (Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI is a consultant at the Institute for Autonomy and Governance in Cotabato City. He was former president of the Notre Dame University and was involved in the peace processes with the MNLF and the MILF. He was an observer in the peace talks between government and the MNLF in Jakarta, Indonesia and was Majority Floorleader of the post-1996 MNLF peace agreement’s Consultative Assembly. He also chaired the Independent Fact-Finding Mission of in the GPH-MILF peace process until the “all-out war” declared by the Estrada administration in 2000).