PEACETALK: This new dawn is here to stay

(Speech of Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, on the Commemoration of the 2nd Anniversary of the Signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, held at the Notre Dame University Gym in Cotabato Cit on March 28, 2016. The CAB was signed in the gardens of Malacanang on March 27, 2014)

Two years ago, when the two parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, we declared together, with courage and conviction, that a new dawn has come. It was a time of renewed hope, of optimism, of euphoria, even.

And yet, over the past two years, we have also faced perhaps the greatest challenges the Bangsamoro peace process has ever confronted. I will no longer dwell on the whys and the hows and the aftermath of these challenges; today, after all, is a celebration of peace and hope. But, of course, even then we knew—as we have always known—that it would not be easy. Yet we also knew how high the stakes are and how important this work is, especially for families and communities on the ground. And so we buckled down and, together, kept moving ever onwards, determined to give this tired, tired land the fresh start it so sorely needs, and keeping faith that in the end, peace will always win.

Our faith is not misplaced: the peace process, while badly hit, remains intact; while battered, it has emerged, I daresay, even stronger.

This is largely due to the strength, resilience, and determination of its multifarious components that complement and work alongside each other with the aim of bringing a more permanent peace to the Philippines. It is only fitting then that, as we commemorate today the second anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement yesterday, we give due recognition to the various actors and mechanisms that have become part of the peace process over the years.

These include, first and foremost, the successive GPH and MILF peace panels and their respective chairs, who steered the negotiations for 17 years and now steer the implementation of the CAB to its completion; our third party facilitator—we have had three facilitators since Malaysia agreed to take on this crucial role after the peace process broke down in Buliok in 2003; and the state and non-state members of the International Contact Group which became an integral part of the architecture of negotiations after the outbreak of armed hostilities in 2008.

As well, we express appreciation and thanks to what we refer to as three “generations” of peace process mechanisms set up by agreement of the parties: first, to enforce the ceasefire and restore it when disrupted, including during the conduct of law enforcement operations in communities with MILF presence, which mechanisms include both domestic and international players, working jointly or as invited third-party; second, to implement the multiple provisions under the normalization program, including the decommissioning of MILF’s BIAF and several tracks of socio-economic interventions; and, third, to undertake specific independent functions set forth in the CAB, particularly with regard needed study and advice on Bangsamoro policing and on transitional justice and reconciliation, as well as to ensure sustained third-party monitoring of the implementation of the CAB up to its completion, which will be marked by an exit agreement between the two parties. We also recognize and thank the various international donors to the special multilateral funding facilities which have been set up in support of the Bangsamoro peace process.

Finally, our commitment today would not be complete without giving full acknowledgement and heartfelt thanks to all the staunch advocates of peace who have faithfully accompanied the peace process to where it is now. While many are unable to join us here today, we salute you all and remember with gratitude those who have gone ahead. You have our nation’s gratitude. Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat.

Your work has been instrumental in helping the peace process weather its toughest challenges and accomplish its most crucial achievements. All this work for peace, which spans decades and goes beyond administrations, has given us the building blocks that now serve as the deep and steadfast foundation on which the Bangsamoro peace process, along with all it has reached and achieved, is built.

And we have attained much despite the setbacks and difficulties we have faced. Perhaps most important of these achievements is the fact that we have managed to foster a felt measure of peace on the ground even as the peace process is still moving towards its conclusion.

In face of harsh challenges, the fact is that there has been zero hostilities between the government and the MILF since 2012, except for the tragedy that struck Mamasapano and the entire nation in January, 2015. The fact is that our robust ceasefire mechanisms managed to prevent tragedy from exploding into a full-blown conflagration, as has happened too many times in the past.

And this relative peace on the ground that we speak of is not simply an abstraction or an intangible thing. Peace on the ground has meant that, instead of fleeing from bombs and bullets, a child was able to stay in school, that elementary and high school graduations were held in Mamasapano at the end of schoolyear 2015; that instead of anxiously staying awake at night to wait for the warning sounds of coming danger, mothers and fathers were able to pursue their livelihoods to provide for their families; that, instead of being trampled and destroyed in firefights, fields were tended and grown; that, instead of being broken yet again, families stayed together and communities finally see the chance to begin the long process of healing.

It means that a people, especially the youth, who have come to know only the history of suffering, now have the chance to rewrite their story—into a narrative where they live proudly and productively, without fear and want, without injustice and prejudice, without the immeasurable pain of war, in a country that accepts and embraces them.

We know that today this measure of peace we have achieved stands on fragile and vulnerable grounds. The challenges are daunting. There is still so much we have to do.

We must make the CAB not only intact but indelible. We must ensure the fulfilment of its political and legal promise in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law early in the next administration, even as we undertake the difficult, more long-term task of dealing with the painful past and healing its deep wounds. We must continue to work on the building blocks of peace and preserve the gains thereof so that we can keep moving, as one nation, ever closer to a peace that will thrive and endure.

In closing, let me reiterate: the government remains unwavering in its commitment to the Comprehensive Agreement and the Bangsamoro peace process. President Aquino has repeatedly affirmed this commitment to the peace accord up to his last day in office and beyond. The CAB, after all, is a commitment to peace that must and will span beyond administrations. Tuloy ang pagpapatupad ng Comprehensive Agreement. Tuloy ang ating laban para sa pangmatagalang kapayapaan. Tuloy ang ating trabahong siguruhin na wala nang batang iiyak pa, na wala nang pamilyang masisira pa, at wala nang buhay pang mawawala dahil sa giyera.

It has been a truly challenging—but at the same time rewarding—two years. And today, with greater courage and conviction, with hope that has been tested and strengthened by the most severe trials, with renewed and wiser optimism—yes, optimism—we again affirm that this new dawn is here to stay; that we will not slip back into the darkness of war and division yet again; that, with continued effort, we have faith that, Insha’Allah, we will soon see the sun of peace emerge from its dawn to its brightest, its most beautiful and amazing zenith.

Thank you and good afternoon. Shukran.