PEACETALK: It’s the people who make peace, not the leaders who sign peace treaties

[Speech delivered by author and research project manager Jamil Maidan Flores at the seminar on the outcome of a research project of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) on “Lessons Learned from a Process of Conflict Resolution between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as Mediated by Indonesia (1993–1996) held at the ASEAN Hall of the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia on 23 September 2019. The research findings are contained in the book, ‘Lessons Learned’ which was launched on the same day]

Thank you for that wonderful introduction. I’m sure my wife likes it.

Bismillahir Rahman ir Rahim
Salaam alaikum waRahmatullahi waBarakatuh

Excellencies, Colleagues and Friends,

I wish to share with you this morning some thoughts about the book I have just written. And about the sullen craft of writing.

In the beginning was the book.

Long before this project was proposed, the concept of the book was there. I remember discussing it with Ambassador Rezlan Izhar Jennie on two occasions at the Hotel Ambhara in late 2016.

I also remember discussing it with the then Director of ASEAN Political and Security Affairs, Pak Widya Chandra, now Ambassador to Serbia. I remember very well that he asked me as he assured me of his support to develop four more book ideas on ASEAN. Which I did.

So Pak Chandra was looking for funding for five books. Only one got funded because it’s the only one that fell within the purview of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR). To get funding, the book idea had to be packaged as a research project in accordance with the Terms of Reference of AIPR.

Jamil Maidan Flores, author and project manager of the research project titled “Lessons Learned from a Process of Conflict Resolution between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as Mediated by Indonesia (1993-1996” speaks at the launch of the book bearing the same title at the ASEAN Hall of the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on 23 September 2019. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Long story short: Research was carried out. It is a fact, however, that more than 70 percent of the data that went into the book was already in my possession at the start of the project. The research part of the project remained important: it enriched, completed and corroborated a body of existing findings and references that I already had.

The book was written. I wrote that book. I am grateful for the opportunity to write it. I am indebted to the institutions and the individuals who made the writing possible.

If you read the book and while engrossed in reading, you seem to hear a voice, that voice is mine.

Apart from imbuing the writing with his voice, the writer creates a relationship between himself and what he has written. It is a relationship of responsibility. Thus I am responsible for every chapter, every passage, every sentence and every word that is in the book. If any of them is dishonest or deliberately misleading, I alone will answer for it to my Creator. If any of them is libelous, I alone should go to prison.

There is also another kind of responsibility involved here. When a knowledgeable reader begins to feel uneasy reading the book because there is something missing—something avoided—that, too, is my responsibility. For every chapter that should be there but is not there… for every passage and every sentence and every word that should be there but is not there, I stand responsible.

That responsibility stems from the relationship between the writer and the reader. When the reader is engrossed in a book, the real world disappears from her consciousness and she enters into the world of the book. There the writer leads her by the hand from one place to another in an experience of learning and discovery. This is a relationship of trust. It must not be jolted by inconsistencies and instances of writer’s incompetence. It must not be tarnished by deception. If the writer proves to be less than trustworthy, he has failed his responsibility.

When the time comes that I stand before the Author of the Universe, and I am called upon to explain, for example, the omissions from this book, I cannot say: Rabbana, Lord, I was just following orders.

No, I cannot transfer the writer’s responsibility to an institution. Nor can I dump it on other individuals.

I respect and love the members of my team. I am grateful for all they have done for the project. I will die for them any day of the week. But I cannot unload upon them a responsibility that is not theirs. For this is a moral responsibility that is beyond legal technicalities. This is a moral responsibility that is beyond the control of bureaucrats.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the beginning was the book. In the end is a book. A book written to be read and not to merely dignify a coffee table or retire in the oblivion of a shelf. If I may humbly say so, it deserves a hearing.

Unless you are a Nabil Tan who has been engaged in the Peace Process for decades—or a Carol Arguillas who has covered Mindanao since the bloom of her youth, you are likely to stumble on something new in this book. You may even acquire a slightly deeper understanding of what has happened in Muslim Mindanao in the course of a long quest for peace, and possibly an insight beyond what President Fidel V. Ramos and the MNLF communicator Abraham Iribani offered in their respective books on the same subject.

As to insight, the penultimate chapter dwells on eight Lessons Learned from the Peace Talks. If the reader can only remember just one of these lessons, I hope it is Lesson Number Eight, with the heading: “It’s the People, Stupid!”

For it’s the people who make peace, not the leaders who sign peace treaties. To be precise, peace is the handiwork of the sum of individuals who decide to stop fighting and to live in the mainstream of a harmonious community. In the final analysis, peace is made at the level of the individual.

In recent times, much has been written about the politics of identity. Groups do matter. A group like the Bangsamoro matters, and matters eternally—only because the individuals who compose it have their own intrinsic worth. Without the intrinsic worth of individuals, the group that they form has no collective worth. A zero multiplied by any number, no matter how large, will still be zero.

We must respect the Bangsamoro—only because every individual Moro, no matter how humble or how helpless, is worthy of respect as a citizen, as a human being.

We talk of economic opportunities for the Moro, of his participation in political decision-making, of delivery of social services, of good governance and protection of human rights—but what are these? These are signs of respect. Remove these signs of respect and you take away the respect. You assault the personal worth of the individual. The natural consequence of that assault is the probability of rebellion.

The bottom line is that rebellion first erupts in the heart of the individual… that peace is not possible unless it comes from the heart of the individual.

And the only antidote to the poison of rebellion, the only elixir for the dream of peace is respect and the attendant signs of respect.

That, I think, is all we need to learn. That is all we need to know.

Om[1] Shantih Shantih Shantih[2].

Wassalaamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

[1] Pronounced AUM: the mystic sound in the Upanishad

[2] Peace that surpasseth understanding.