PEACETALK: We have reached this far because we have people in Mindanao who refuse to become victims of war

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 March) — As a peace advocate who has accompanied the GPH-MILF Peace Talks in the last 15 years, I had been reflecting on the letter of Cardinal Orlando Quevedo addressed to all Christians and had asked myself what is it that we Christians can actually do to save the peace agreement and pursue the legislative work on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Are we totally powerless vis-à-vis the political leaders who lashed out against the peace panels as traitors and enemies of the state? Can we just take it sitting down hearing all these hatred and bashing against the Moros like they are animals?

We cannot allow the call for peace in Mindanao to die in the hands of these senators, congressmen and bloodthirsty media. We need to stand and be counted in this major legislative work that will define our immediate future and the future of our children in Mindanao. During the all-out-war in 2000 when bombs and cannons ravaged our homes and communities, the cry for peace in the hearts of young children, widows and mothers refused to die. Despite the overwhelming policy to pulverize and finish off the Moros, ordinary civilians, Muslims and Christians alike, braved the tanks and cannons and called for ceasefire and peace talks.

Ordinary people with extraordinary hearts like Babu Umbai, Bapa Butch, Adel Nayal, Bill Martin went to Manila to appeal before Malacanan to resume the peace talks with the MILF. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) lined up in hundreds of thousands along the highways of Pikit and Pagalungan to demonstrate their strong support for ceasefire. Bantay Ceasefire volunteers risked their lives to monitor and help ensure that the ceasefire agreement will be implemented and guns will be silenced in the conflict-affected areas.

We have reached this far because we have people in Mindanao who refuse to become victims of war. The peace agreement is a product of painstaking advocacy work from war-ravaged communities by nameless and faceless individuals who have buried countless babies and loved ones. The peace agreement is alive today because the Muslims, Christians and Indigenous peoples have walked hand in hand to give birth to a peace agreement that will finally put a closure to the armed conflict.

Now, that peace agreement is facing slow death in the hands of our politicians who largely represent the interests of the status quo. The power of the status quo is so formidable we have witnessed in the past two months how it can even destabilize the presidency and consign the Bangsamoro people to a life of capitulation, violence and oppression.

And those who are against the status quo can easily be labeled as “lawyering” for the enemies. As peace advocates, we are used to this “if you are not with us, you are against us” mentality. We, too, were labeled as MILF, terrorists and what have you. But these accusations and labeling did not deter our spirits.

As Christians and Mindanawons, we cannot afford to simply allow the politicians to determine the kind of future that we and our children will have in Mindanao. We cannot afford to take back the hope that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro offers to our people. We cannot allow the civilians to again suffer prolonged displacement in the evacuation centers. The consequence of a failed peace agreement, God forbid, is unimaginable.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing”. Our good Cardinal has spoken. “My fellow disciples of Christ, self-determination has been the cry of the Bangsamoro for centuries. They struggled to preserve it against the Spaniards and the Americans. They insisted on it in the face of our government’s efforts to neutralize and domesticate it by democratic processes and the lure of economic development. The lesson of history is not one we can sweep under the rug – the fundamental aspiration of a “nation” for self-determination does not die. It will seem to fade away with the passing of old leaders but if unrealized the drive for self determination will rise with the radicalization of younger generations.”

No less than Pope Francis said that “I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities. I note with pleasure that last March an agreement was signed to end long years of tension in the Philippines.”

In the name of mercy and compassion, I beg my fellow Christians to rise up to this challenge. Let us take direct action for peace. Mindanawons cannot afford to miss the peace train. We have to be onboard now. If the people of Manila have gone to the streets twice in the name of freedom and social justice, Mindanawons should be able to demonstrate that we can also do that hand in hand with our Christian, Muslim and Indigenous brothers and sisters. Let us all rise up for peace. Let us tell our politicians who will be luring our votes for 2016 that peace in Mindanao is what we want, what we will work for and what we will vote for. Genuine peace for Mindanao can only happen if the silent majority of Christians take the high moral ground and genuinely embrace our Moro brothers and sisters with the sincerity of hearts and with the truest feelings of mercy and compassion.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her piece on peace in Mindanao. Mary Ann M. Arnado is the spokesperson of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, convenor of Bantay Ceasefire and a Fellow of the Women Peacemakers Program of the Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego)