PEACETALK: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”

(Opening Statement of government peace panel chair  Miriam Coronel-Ferrer at the GPH-MILF Meeting in Kuala Lumpur on 10‎ February, 2016)

KUALA LUMPUR (MindNews/ 11 February) — Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to see all of you once again, altogether with our partners in the Bangsamoro peace process.

A blessed morning to all.

Today could have been a much happier occasion, if only we had the law that would have moved our road map forward in leaps and bounds. But we do not have the law – yet.

Despite the extraordinary efforts of our teams and all the other tireless peace advocates and congressional allies who travelled with us in this difficult journey of a thousand miles, we saw the session days in Congress wither away, without a BBL in sight.

Still, there is much to be proud about in our hard-fought struggle in the congressional arena.  Hindi matatawaran ang pagsisikap na pinamalas ng lahat.  The President and his office, civil society organizations in Mindanao and elsewhere, the international community.

As early as July 2014, before the draft law was to be submitted in Congress, the President in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) appealed: “We are currently forging the proposal for the Bangsamoro Basic Law. We ask for the Congress’ understanding regarding this. It is important to scrutinize each provision we lay down. To the best of our ability, we aim to advance a bill that is fair, just, and acceptable to all.”

In his July 2015 SONA, he again appealed: “Now, I wish to talk about legislation, which I hope will be passed during the term of this Congress. The most important of these: the Bangsamoro Basic Law. To those who oppose this measure: I believe that it is incumbent upon you to suggest more meaningful measures. If you do not present an alternative, you are only making sure that progress will never take root in Mindanao. Let me ask you: How many more of our countrymen will have to perish before everyone realizes that the broken status quo of Muslim Mindanao must change?”

From the start of the negotiations, the GPH Panel engaged our legislators. From the 15th to the 16th Congresses, from then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to Senate President Franklin Drilon, we reported to them, and their concerned Committees, and sought their advice. Several legislators, moreover,  observed the talks in Kuala Lumpur. A good number also joined exposure trips in Spain and UK.

With the signing of the CAB, we further saw the honest and faith-full endeavor to meaningfully engage the legislature – not by paid lobby groups, but the people themselves for whom the law mattered, accompanied by their sympathizers.

As the law entered the legislative mill, MILF leaders in the BTC knocked on the doors of senators in their offices to seek understanding.  They appeared before congressional hearings, giving a face to the movement that has now effectively entered the terrain of legislative lobby (and even congressional investigations), lodged in this other supposedly democratic and representative institution by which the people’s will can see fruition.

From the battlefields in Mindanao and Sulu archipelago to the Philippine Congress in Metro Manila – it was a huge leap in mind set and formative socialization of the bearers of Bangsamoro aspirations who trace their descent in the long tradition of armed resistance fought on land and waters against the Spanish and American colonial regimes.

The almost day-to-day accompaniment of congressional deliberations also significantly distinguished itself from the earlier process that produced Republic Act 9054. At that time, the legislative process was unwittingly abandoned to take its own course. I know this because I followed the crafting of RA 9054 as part of the study we did at the University of the Philippines assessing the implementation of the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement. In contrast, legislative process for the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law was “pushed to the max” by the primary advocates themselves.

Of the 40 or so amendments introduced by House Bill 5811, the BTC lobbied for the retention of 28 provisions.  These numbers alone show that it is not true that the proponents would not allow any change in the original draft. Besides, any lawmaker can still introduce amendments during the next round of legislative wrestling. But commentators resented this attempt to reinstate some important provisions. Shouldn’t a revolutionary movement acting as a congressional lobby group in fact be welcomed? The passage of other controversial laws like the Reproductive Health Law and the Sin Tax Law were accompanied by the same pushing and steadfastness by lobbyists to preserve important provisions but they were treated with much less antipathy that the BBL advocates endured.

Many reasons and theories have been given as to why in the end the legislative calendar perished without the desired outcome. Luwaran’ s editorial cited four reasons. Editorial cartoons tried to capture our thousand sighs in one freeze frame. I will no longer delve much into this, as the interplay of actors and action-reaction has been complex, and would require some distance to fully comprehend.

And so it happened that while the MILF endeavored to exhaust the legislative process, the 16th Congress simply defaulted.

I remember Mr. Iqbal once described their situation. “”We have one foot inside the door, one foot outside. Help us drag the other foot in,” he asked. We are relieved that we still have that one foot inside the door. But what Congress (not all the members, but as a collective entity) did was to shut out the other foot, as if saying: “Dyan muna kayo. Huwag nyo kaming madaliin.” (“Stay there. Don’t rush us.”)

Our legislative bout was a fight well fought.  We lost several rounds but each time the peace advocates altogether stood up to continue the fight. Not for any prize money or fame, but for the just share of the fruits of freedom and democracy for the Bangsamoro.

My good counterpart, the wise  Mr. Mohager Iqbal, also said once: “There is no perfect agreement.” I hastened to add: “There are no perfect parties to an agreement, and no perfect bills or laws either.”

With humility, we accept the weaknesses and imperfections of our efforts.

We held hundreds of consultations, but apparently we need to do thousands more.  We strained to straighten out the misinformation again and again. We still need to do even more.

We nurtured our ceasefire and were confident in the utility of our protocols. But we saw how a major lapse in protocol had unleashed deadly, almost knee-jerk instincts. Therefore, we must continue to tame our old ways and change the mind set of the weapon-bearers of both sides of the fence

From an angry, tight-knit organization, the MILF has increasingly opened up to the other segments of society – the other indigenous peoples, the non-Moros, other political forces. The MILF today is  a confident MILF, not a besieged closed organization. It is aware of the need for inclusivity. It is a pragmatic organization that carefully balances its idealism with realism…It enjoys the trust and respect of many people in civil society and government who have worked closely with their members. It has chosen peace.

Still of course many difficulties remain. Many people do not yet see the difference between one Moro group and another believing that because they live side by side, they are all alike.  Nobody would make that conclusion about Quezon City where I live among drug syndicates, carnappers, rapists, corrupt government officials, and petty thieves.

Many do not see that the mistake of one need nt embody the whole organization, nor the whole tribe, nor the whole religion and its faithful for that matter.

For all these reasons, much remain to be done to build and nurture public trust through dialogue.

Since all our efforts have not been enough, we should do more. We should listen more, engage more. This cause is ours, and so the main burden is ours. We shall prevail if we don’t give up now. How many times in the past did events play out to push us almost to the brink of giving up? But precisely because we persevered, we have reached this far in the process.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet” is a Proverb found in many Philippine languages. In Bicolano: An paciencia mapait, alangad an bunga mahamis.

Similarly, the Tagalog say:  “Ang sino mang may tiyaga, may palayok na linaga.” (“Who has patience, gets to enjoy the pot of boiled meat.”

As for the sum total of where we are now, we have definitely gained. We have scored net positive points.

We have made life better for the people in the periods of sustained ceasefire, and through the many capacity development programs and socio-economic activities that have flourished.

Out efforts have inspired similarly troubled countries.  Our peace infrastructure is serving as a model. Our peace process has the respect and support of the international community, and the envy of those struggling for and seeking their own peace accords.

Many of those who were 10-14 year old children when we started out in 2010 are now about to enter the cusp of adulthood with a stronger sense of the value of life and human dignity. Instead of learning the ropes of warfare, they experienced relative peace. Like most children used to hard life, have solid dreams for a better future for their families.

We wish these children to continue to acquire the needed skills to wage peace through the rough-and-tumble of open and democratic politics. In promoting these nonviolent and democratic values alone to the next generation, we have already won the peace. These children of today would be more adept and more upright to the ways of nonviolence to attain justice and democracy when their time to lead comes. Ultimately, our efforts would bring about the needed social and political change, and heal the gaping wound of disunity and misunderstanding among Filipinos.

It is incumbent upon us who have chosen to reject war as the means to do politics, and who commit to the path of peace and democracy to rally together to make Philippine democracy work for those who have been at the periphery of the nation’s politics. Our armor: a good deal of patience and perseverance that gives us the moral courage to stay the course.

The Tausug say: “Isiyu in matugul siya in makagulgul” (S/he who has the patience and perseveres will achieve the things s/he desires.)

The Waray say : “An gahom kanan nagitkos.” (Power is for him and her, who persevere.)

The CAB remains our most viable roadmap, the source of the substance of the policies and legislation that we will continue to pursue under the next administration and the 17th Congress.

The next administration would be fooldhardy to wage war, and everything to gain by upholding this pathway. It will have enough time to see both the CAB and a CAB-compliant law realized.

As for the best legislative tack in the next Congress, several questions are relevant: Would it simply entail a refiling of a BBB (Bangsamoro Basic Bill)? Which version? Are the prospects rife for constitutional change? What to expect? Who would be the champions for peace and the Bangsamoro?

We believe we will be able to have a better reading of the prospects and the best tack after the election and the incoming legislators have been determined. In any case, in the Senate we generally foresee a majority who will be supportive of a good BBL being obtained. This estimate is based on those who would stay, those who are rating well in surveys and, moreover, the fact that several of the contrary ones would no longer be around.

The House probably remains the bigger challenge given these figures: almost half are re-electionists, a good number are running unopposed, others are relatives of incumbents, and the rest new entrants or comebacks.  While the next President may also have less of the leverages traditionally wielded by the chief executive precisely because of the reforms that have been instituted in the budget system and the illegalization of the PDAF, s/he will enjoy a honeymoon period and will harvest many of the turncoats and can therefore heavily influence the movements in the House.

In due time, decisions would have to be made, risks taken. But we have shown that we are not averse to risks. How else did we get this far?

“The only genuine kind of dignity is one that is not diminished by the indifference of others,” said Dag Hammarskjold, the second secretary general of the United Nations.

We have met with adversity,  we have cried out against the indifference. But the integrity of the CAB remains, and the dignity of those who have persevered is not diminished.