PEACETALK: Peace is always possible

TIRANA, Albania (MindaNews / 08 September) — We thought that there was no possibility for peace in Mindanao after prolonged conflict when more than 50,000 people died, more than a million of the population experienced displacement, and the economic cost of the conflict ran to several billions of dollars.

But with the strong commitment of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to pursue peace, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was reached by the parties last March 27, 2014.

Although the implementation of the agreement is equally difficult as we are experiencing now in the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in the Philippine Congress, we are still hopeful that the whole process from negotiating the terms of the agreement to the implementation of the agreement will be completed sooner or later.

Hopefully, by that time not only the people of the Bangsamoro will experience peace but the people of Mindanao and the whole Philippines.

The agreement itself is a significant milestone in the pursuit for peace in Mindanao. The CAB shall be the foundation of establishing a new political entity for the Bangsamoro and defining a new economic relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Central Government.

Negotiating peace is not that easy. The negotiations between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) took 21 years and 17 years were spent before an agreement was reached between the GPH and the MILF. Within that span of time several major wars were fought between the government forces and that of the MILF.

What made the peace agreement possible? My personal reflections are more on the process rather than the substance.

Both the Government and the MILF are committed to the supremacy of the peace process. They believe that negotiations are the preeminent approach to resolve conflicts.

Salamat Hashim, the founder and first chair of the MILF, in a policy statement before he died said that the peaceful and civilized way to resolve the conflict between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine Government is through negotiations. Although both parties have their armed forces, they learned lessons that military approach does not only fail to resolve, but in many cases, fuels conflicts.

When both parties reached the conclusion that the status quo is unacceptable, they were at the level of similar understanding of the problem and finding the solution to the problem became easier. Differentiating their interests from their negotiating positions was easy and led them to come to compromise without each leaving behind their respective interests.

It was easy for both parties to start the dialogue by setting aside pre-conditions. They agreed that contentious issues like independence and the constitution would not be brought out in the discussions. The decisions of the parties to set aside display of flags and other symbols made them unperturbed by the denotations of symbols and concentration were focused on substantive issues.

While talking peace, Government and the MILF agreed to a ceasefire. Cessation of hostilities is significant to keep the peace process going and to preserve whatever gains achieved. It provides space to build confidence among conflicting parties. Infrastructures were established by both parties to sustain the ceasefire like the International Monitoring Team, the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the local monitoring team.

The importance of third party facilitator is being recognized. In many instances when there was deadlock, the Malaysian facilitator and the International Contact Group’s assistance was useful to break the deadlock.

Although the negotiations drag on for long time the parties keep on talking peace. The conflict between the Philippine Government and the Bangsamoro liberation fronts is violent and resulted in large-scale wars, but most of the time they are engaged in peace talks. The destruction to life and properties would have been incalculable if negotiations were not talking place.

The support of the civil society organizations and the international community were indeed invaluable.

With the same faith and commitment of the Government and the MILF to the peace process, I am hopeful that the second stage of the peace process which is the implementation of the agreement is possible and peace will be possible.

With this experience, I can say to you that peace is always possible in the Bangsamoro, and is possible in all parts of the globe. It is also possible that the way to peace is peaceful – the way of negotiations; the way of conversation; the way of dialogue. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her piece on peace in Mindanao. Prof. Abhoud Syed Linga, Executive Director of the Cotbato City-based Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and a member of the MILF peace panel, delivered this piece at the Panel 2, International Meeting of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Tirana International Hotel, Tirana, Albania, 7 September 2015).