TURNING POINT: Enemies as Partners in Peace

NAAWAN, Misamis Occidental (MindaNews/15 Feb) — For one who is publicly known as among those who are eyeing the highest post of the land in 2016, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano has found another opportunity, after the Senate hearing on the corruption allegations on Vice President Binay, and a very good platform for free maximum visibility in the Mamasapano tragedy. The good senator is now enjoying a good ride on the mounting tension and raging sentiment of the people arising from the unfortunate incident.

Senator Cayetano who co-authored the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a proposed legislation aimed to capture the elusive peace in Mindanao, made a quick turnabout from the bill the day after the incident. Since then he has lambasted the MILF for what is, rightly or wrongly, called the Mamasapano massacre.

In the Senate hearing last Thursday, Cayetano castigated the MILF, in the presence of its peace negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, calling it a terrorist organization that continues to build up its armed force and use arms and violence while negotiating for peace. He unrolled documents to support his claim. He questioned the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process for remaining a revolutionary organization despite the peace accord with the government. He blamed and attributed to the Moros, which elicited a hurt response from ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, the problems, the underdevelopment, the miseries and the suffering of the people of Mindanao. If only the MILF had worked for peace without the use of arms, the 44 SAF policemen should not have suffered their fate, he said one way or another.

It was to the credit of Mr. Iqbal, a veteran MILF warrior turned peace advocate, for remaining composed, cool and calm in responding to the scathing harangue of the senator.

The tirade was an uncalled for but was valuable for allowing us a glimpse at the quality of Mr. Cayetano’s thoughts as a statesman and as a student of history. But why this derisive criticism against the MILF made just now when he was supportive of the peace process from the start until the fateful incident of January 25? Would this mean that, until Mamasapano, he was not aware of the character, the struggle, the entire history of the MILF and the conflict in Mindanao and yet had become a co-author of a legislation to positively end the Moro problem?

Didn’t he know from the start that the MILF was recognized by the government as a revolutionary, not a civil society, organization when it joined the latter in the peace negotiation table?

The Senator should know that revolutionaries are armed and will continue to hold their arms, for their own security and other pragmatic reasons, until some critical objectives of a peace negotiation are attained. In the case of the GRP-MILF agreement, there is a phase in the peace process where the decommissioning of the armed forces of the MILF is programmed to commence.

Call them partners in the process, but the government and the MILF are, for all intents and purposes, enemies, not friendly allies, negotiating for peace. Both camps, however, have recognized the evils and the futility of armed conflict. Thus they are negotiating to end age-old enmities and abolish the scourge of war, with the hope of becoming friends and one people in working for authentic and sustainable development.

Doesn’t the Senator understand the reason why a ceasefire agreement was forged by and between the GRP and the MILF preliminary to the tedious, difficult and demanding process of making the relevant structures and institutions for lasting peace?

He should have known that when a ceasefire is agreed upon by conflicting parties, there is this recognition that a state of war exists between them and that both camps have the capacity to continue inflicting harm to each other. A ceasefire is an instrument to stop hostilities while peace is being negotiated.

Of course, the negotiating parties, in the case of the GRP and the MILF, are fully aware that a ceasefire may be violated anytime one way or another and bloody skirmishes may occur as a result. Hence, some mechanisms and protocols have been readied and in place to address this vital concern.

The peace process was on course for three years without any untoward incident until Mamasapano. The situation now puts into harness the mechanisms and appropriate instrumentalities of the peace process. Individually and together, the Joint GRP-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the Independent Fact Finding Committee, and the International Monitoring Team are now moving to get into the bottom of things, help find justice for all affected by the incident, and resolve the issues and the consequences of Mamasapano, if only for everyone to move on.

The Senator, however, did not give the above instrumentalities a chance to prove their worth. He withdrew his support to the BBL and to the peace talk with the MILF. He has in fact suggested the launching of a smart war against the rebel group, i.e., by isolating it while economic development is pursued in the area, squeezing out its funding, and undermining the MILF’s control of its followers. Well, the Senator has a cute version of an all-out war.

Indeed, leaders are measured by their demeanor in crisis situations.

Our top government officials ought to be model of sobriety and composure in dealing with serious issues and interest of the State. They should be prudent in their rhetoric and behavior so as not to stoke further at the moment the flame of the mindless cry for vengeance and war.

The people in Mindanao join the nation in mourning over the senseless death of our 44 gallant policemen in the cornfields of Mamasapano. We condemn the irresponsible and reckless way they were sent on that mission and the atrocities they suffered in the hands of the rebels and bandits in the area. But enough is enough. We have suffered more than enough from the idiocy and horrors of war – by the endless and senseless bloodletting in our midst since time we can remember. Let justice be served to all concerned in objective and civil manner in the realm of peace.

War is never fair. Unspeakable excesses beyond our imagination will always be committed by combatants in the battlefield and elsewhere, with Geneva Convention or not. War is an atrocious human aberration that should not be entertained and encouraged by right thinking people.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph. D., is a former professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan)