DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 March) — “Never having to say I’m sorry” is a title, by the way, of an old favorite song. That reminds me of this growing call for the president to say “I’m sorry” for Mamasapano. If you ask me, I do not think President Aquino will say “I’m sorry” in spite of this clamor. And in spite of the fact that the illustrious members of the so-called Hyatt 10 group now surround him in his Cabinet.
If we recall, the Hyatt 10 were the ones who prevailed upon former President Arroyo to say “I’m sorry” for the Garcillano issue. I know this because I sat in the Arroyo cabinet when the issue was discussed. The president herself intentionally skipped attending that session day to allow the whole cabinet to freely and openly discuss the pros and cons. We were deeply divided. Majority did not agree for PGMA to say “I’m sorry”.
But one faction with Secretaries Dinky Soliman, Ging Deles, and Cesar Purisima as leaders argued that the president must apologize openly to the nation to save her government. When PGMA did what they advised her to do, the next thing they did was treacherously abandon her. They resigned en masse from the Cabinet, wrongly believing that her government would then collapse. That’s all behind us now. Coincidentally (or by stroke of fate), they are all now cozily seated in the Aquino cabinet. Question: are they also similarly advising P-noy to say “i’m sorry”? My unsolicited advise to President Aquino: don’t listen to them Mr. President. Look what they did to the former president! And yes, it’s a bit too late in the day to apologize. That would have been done on Day One.
CAB STILL STANDS. I heard the MILF leadership got together recently in Camp Darapanan and discussed the “worst case scenario” of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Good move. It is expected that if the BBL is not approved by Congress or if it is so “mutilated” that it will not be acceptable to the MILF, the signed and sealed Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro (CAB), including the earlier Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro (FAB) will still stand and remain and will continue to be binding between the government and the MILF. Unless of course someone brings the issue of the CAB to the Supreme Court and it is declared unconstitutional. But the fact is, the BBL is only an implementing mechanism of the peace agreement and whatever happens to the BBL will not affect the CAB.
WAIT FOR BETTER TIMES. I am of the view that if the conditions today are not conducive to pass an acceptable BBL, it may be best to wait for better times and not force the issue now, lest the consequence may be dire and irreversible. My impression is that there is a clear indication that the MILF leadership will walk the proverbial extra mile for peace. Yes, there will be factions or elements in the MILF who will disengage from the mainstream and resort to other means — violent or otherwise. We must expect this to happen as we all know and have seen by our very own eyes how Mamasapano exposed the realities on the ground. Nonetheless, given MILF Chairman Kagi Murad‘s unflinching commitment to peace ( I know whereof I speak as I have dealt with him personally for three years, both of us as chief negotiators), things will not be that inscrutable as many predict. Having said that, it may be best that Kagi Murad exercise more leadership than what we have observed before. Given all this, it may be best for the “war mongers” on our side to take a cue from this. Then things may ease up a bit. But bottom line is: let’s all be patient. There is always a way. Maybe not now but later.
BLACKMAIL. Those who threaten the public by saying that the alternative to a “no BBL” scenario is war are dead wrong. Or are blackmailing us. Let us not force the issue. We may only put to total waste the gains of the peace process if we are not prudent. Let the issues of Mamasapano be first resolved and the heat cools down. Then we can re-visit from where we left off when an enabling environment prevails. I trust the MILF sees the situation today in this light.
CIVIC JOURNO. I was able to catch up on the 2nd day of Mindanao media workshop on civic journalism of the Philippine Press Institute in General Santos City the past few days under the sponsorship of NICKEL ASIA Mining Corporation. I was glad I did, although it was a close call having to be in Surigao del Norte and Butuan before that and then rushing back to Davao City. Civic journalism is simply all about looking at day to day concerns or stories, even of ordinary folks. It’s about the foibles of life that ordinary folks face and writing about them for all to know about. This is apart from the usual stories and headline items about corruption, governance or featuring or quoting spokesmen or popular talking heads like public officials. By doing civic journalism, the print media bring to public view what we usually take for granted or at times ignore and by so doing somehow bring relief or remedies or just stir public awareness of events that otherwise do not usually see print or get reported. We all know that human interest stories warm the cockles of the heart.
DRY SPELL. Enroute to the PPI event, when our plane circled General Santos City and South Cotabato province to land, I could see from the plane window the vast, brown and arid land below endlessly stretching from the sea to the mountains beyond. The dry spell had taken its toll. Only the Del Monte plantations and some oil palm and banana lands retained their greenery but all the rest wilted for lack of rain for sometime. It reminded me of the famine due to the EL NINO that visited highlanders of Central Mindanao in1998 during the time of former President Ramos. We provided emergency supply of rice to the hungry population of about 1 million residents. It was not easy. We had to quell some unrest of hungry and angry farmers and barrio folks. Today, we are still on the onset of summer but the dry spell is starting to rear its ugly head. Government must prepare for a similar scenario. In the meantime, we need a gathering storm badly to bring temporary relief.
SUFFERINGS. This reminds me. I wonder how the thousands of “bakwits” in Maguindanao and nearby areas are coping as military operations against the bad guys are on-going. We know that human tragedy always takes place when fighting erupts between the military and the armed groups and the first victims for sure are the non-combatants or those who are not involved at all one way or the other in the conflict. Even the families of fighters, their women and children, suffer the brunt. Government must be there to attend to them. Never mind if we also give assistance to the families of combatants who fight government. I recall during my time doing Mindanao work for the government, some government relief workers complained that the bags of supplies that we distributed in evacuation centers were usually found in overran and captured camps of the rebels. Of course, we should expect that family recipients of goods would find ways and means to help their husbands, sons and relatives fighting out there. In humanitarian work, we do not distinguish. In fact, if government responds well and gives assistance, it will win the hearts and minds even of those who fight government and the established order. But if it becomes a humanitarian disaster due to government’s incompetence or callousness, then we breed more dissenters and increase the number of those who rebel and fight government.
We will see how the ongoing military operations cope with the needs of the affected and suffering civilians. However, what we saw and how things were handled in the Zamboanga siege was tragic. ( (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jesus “Jess” Dureza served in various capacities under the nine-year Arroyo administration, including the posts of government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to 2003 and as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process).