PEACETALK: Ten Easter Challenges for Peace in Mindanao

(Easter Sunday message of Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro City, 05 April 2015)

As we start the Easter season recalling Our Lord’s triumph over injustice, violence and death, let us also pray and work together for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.  Ten propositions for peace challenge us to look to the future of Mindanao with hope – but only through the path of our own sacrifices and commitment.

  1. Christianity and Islam are both religions of peace.  In their sacred scriptures, the call for peace is strong and persistent: “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  In our interreligious dialogues, bishops and ulama are one in calling for peace and reconciliation, and an end to armed conflicts in Mindanao.
  1. The vast majority of Muslim and Christian communities in Mindanao aspire for peace.  Many communities have directly experienced the ravages of war and internal conflicts.  In particular, the first and most vulnerable victims of war are the women and children.  It is for them and future generations that we need to build structures for peace today.
  1. All-out war is not the answer to the Mindanao situation.  It has been tried before and failed.  The major outbreaks of war in the early 70s, and the years 2000, 2003, and 2008, have brought about widespread destruction and dislocation of families but no end to the armed conflict.
  1. Leaders of Muslim communities have pointed out three major grievances: the diminution of their ancestral territory, the erosion of their cultural identity, and the loss of self-determination in the development of their communities.  The creation of a Bangsamoro autonomous entity addresses these grievances and has been found acceptable by the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) panel.  In their continuing struggle, this is a significant concession for Muslim leaders from their primordial stand for an independent state.
  1. The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) represents a reasonable, practicable and carefully crafted formula for attaining a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.  In the long history of peace-building negotiations in Mindanao, it comes at the end of 18 years of failed negotiations with Muslim militant groups and almost a half-century since the first MNLF uprising.  It has undergone five years of widely-publicized peace panel talks under the present Administration.
  1. Ongoing questions on the BBL with regard to territory, sovereignty, Sharia Law, police force, natural resources, etc. may need to be clarified and aligned to our Constitutional principles.

On the other hand, the surviving members of the Philippine Constitutional Convention of 1987 have affirmed that the BBL does not go against any Constitutional provision and that the core spirit of the Constitution is Social Justice.  We trust our legislators and courts to review these issues from a historical, statesmanlike, and non-partisan perspective.

  1. The Mamasapano incident should not be equated with the BBL.  Mamasapano in the short term represents the failure of leadership, the breakdown of trust, and the resurgence of biases and prejudices.  The BBL addresses the root causes of injustice and provides for the institutions needed for the long-term development of Muslim communities.
  1. Instead of viewing the MILF as enemies, the BBL makes them and the envisioned Bangsamoro entity partners for peace and development in Mindanao.  The internal security of the Bangsamoro entity regarding the presence of other armed groups – such as the Abu Sayyaf, BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) and elements of the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front)– can best be handled by Muslims themselves with the support of the national government.
  1. The alternative to scrapping the BBL would be a return to square one a generation ago and may ensue in continuing violence and unrest in Mindanao.  The only ones who stand to gain are arms dealers and some politicians who attract attention by polarizing communities.  Media people are also challenged to engage in peace journalism, particularly for uninformed audiences in Luzon and the Visayas as well as in Mindanao itself.
  1. All-out peace can open the doors for all-out development of Mindanao.  It can create the conditions for inclusive growth, particularly for Muslim Mindanao.  Many local and international investors have signified their interest in harnessing the peace dividends in Mindanao.  A climate of peace, development and solidarity can bring about greater stability for the Philippines in an integrated ASEAN region and a wider world confronting threats of international terrorism.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/ her piece on peace in Mindanao. Archbishop Antonio Ledesma is the Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro City)