PEACETALK:  How our historicity could bring lasting peace to Mindanao

GISENYI, Rwanda (MindaNews / 01 May) — The extension of the term of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) for another, but final, three years is unquestionably necessary for the completion of the infrastructure of lasting peace in Mindanao, which is now steadily rising from more than five decades of bloodletting, but the whole nation is seemingly so unconcerned.

On May 17, 2021, the Philippine Congress will again resume its session but it will adjourn sine die on the first week of June of this same year. Considering the many major concerns of Congress as our country reels through the COVID-19 pandemic, the twin bills, both calling for the extension of the term of the BTA for another, but final, three years, now pending in Congress, may be buried into oblivion, and with the peace process eventually plunged into the abyss of death due to time constraints.

In my previous article, I articulated how the non-extension of the term of the BTA, in the absence of an electoral code, would put the BARMM into a political interregnum, which may convert the whole region into a powder keg and, eventually, into the state of social conflagration. I also articulated in that article that there are still two remaining options that can be taken to save the ongoing peace process in Mindanao.

Let me reiterate these two remaining saving options: One, for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to certify as urgent the passage of the bills, now pending in congress, all calling for the extension of the life of the BTA; and Two, for both houses of Congress to immediately act and act fast not as politicians but as visionaries. By visionary, it means working for the best interests of the present and future generations, and not for the next election.

It is conceded that, at the first blush, it does not seem quite a good electoral strategy for politicians to embroil themselves on issues involving the Bangsamoro during the electoral season or during the period not so distant to the next electoral exercise, considering the unwashed prejudices, and, at times, bigotries between and among the culturally divergent inhabitants of Mindanao. This is the reason why, in our previous article, we appealed to our politicians concerned to enliven a true visionary in them so that they may be able to see the light and for them act of in accordance with what is best for the people of Mindanao and the generations yet to come.

At this juncture, we would like to clarify, however, that it does at all mean that, when the politicians closely embroil themselves on issues involving the Bangsamoro, it is as if they embrace a sure formula for electoral perdition or as if they sign their political death warrants. Far from it!

Engagement in this kind for prophetic works is, in fact, an opportunity for our politicians to venture into the domain of excellence, which is actually an effective way of dotting themselves prominently on the political landscape, which time cannot anymore erase and which nothing can remove it from social memory. It also serves as an opportunity for the people to separate the grain from the chaffand to correctly decide whom they should sign a social contract with every time an electoral exercise is held. Thus, in a deeper analysis, for the politicians to put his social and political craftsmanship at full display by grappling bravely with other forces within the arena of peace-building in Mindanao is actually a formula for electoral victory, not merely as an ephemeral incident of life, but as a long-lasting one.

The extension of the term of the BTA is widely considered as a great imperative to ensure the success of the ongoing peace process in Mindanao, especially under this time when the building of the strong edifice of peace in this troubled Island is already about to be completed. But the doldrums that welcomes the ongoing campaign for the extension of the term of the BTA in both the executive and legislative departments of the government meets the eye, if not downright frustrating.

The petition for the extension of the term of the BTA for another, but final, three years, containing a million signatures was already sent to Malacanang, with the widest real-time social media publicity afforded to it, merited neither a squeak nor a whimper within different decision-making mechanisms in government. Despite its overarching importance in the life of the nation, the mainstream media treated the submission of the cart-full petition as drab as it treated the filing of the case by the Philippines government against the illegal appropriation of our Islands and seas by China in the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

MindaNews  has been giving  a blow-by-blow coverage of the developments pertaining to the peace process since its inception two decades ago. It still continues to do so until today. It is, therefore, our fervent hope that, by its comprehensive coverage of the events relative to the peace process in Mindanao, MindaNews would be able to galvanize the public fervor on the peace process and to mobilize our decision-makers into collective action for the purpose of ushering the peace process into its final phase.

Lessons from Rwanda

The campaign for the extension of the life of the BTA is not founded on mere caprice or on the desire of the members of the Bangsamoro Parliament to cling to their unelected posts. The Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC), headed by the Mindanao peace icon, Atty. Mary Ann Arnado, has submitted the results of its mid-term comprehensive review of the governance BARMM to both the executive and legislative departments of the government. The results of this mid-term review had justified the extension of the term of the BTA for another, but final, three years through the careful presentation of empirical data and scientifically gathered information. But still, the results of this study appear to be insufficient to stir our country’s decision-makers into immediate action, even in view of the fact that time is already of the essence.

Author and his wife Tita offer their prayers before the mass grave of victims of genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The Memorial Center for the victims of genocide is located at the center of Kigali, Rwanda. The couple visited the center in April 2021.

The very low public internalization of important issues pertaining to peace-building in Mindanao in the life of the nation may be attributable to how dull the mainstream media lends credence on these issues in the pursuit of their works. It is worth noting that, in not too distant past, our mainstream news media outlets cover developments in the Haque Court and the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and the peace process in Mindanao just in flash, so that they could have ample time to educate the public on how the Romeo-and-Juliet love affair of Nadine Lustre and James Reid ended in a painful separation. This is probably the reason why issues pertaining to the West Philippine Sea and the peace process in Mindanao, despite their social importance, become least of the concerns of the general public, and this seeming public unconcern also reflects on how our government officials deal with these twin issues until now.

This seeming unconcern cannot be made to continue. The number of casualties and other victims resulting from the war in Mindanao is as huge as the number of casualties and other victims arising from the genocide in Rwanda, East Africa. Both claimed a million victims and caused the displacements of even greater number of people. The only difference is that the carnage in Mindanao occurred within a period spanning more than four decades, while, in Rwanda, the carnage was perpetrated just within the period of one hundred days. Also, as to the level of barbarity through which the killings were perpetrated, the genocide in Rwanda and the blood-lettings in Mindanao share almost the same characteristics.

What is notable with Rwanda, as compared to the Philippines, is that the former has already been able to rise from the ashes of that genocidal strife just within a very short period. It should be remembered that the genocide in Rwanda happened only in 1994, when the whole world has already entered the era of modernity, and with information technology already beginning to shape the world affairs. But, how Rwanda had successfully removed the tribal and cultural faultlines which created the objective condition for such barbaric ferment is a good subject of study for our country which is still in the process of finding lasting and sustaining peace in Mindanao.

Aside from its active engagements in social re-acculturation process, with its institutions of learning and the media as main instruments for its cultural transformation, Rwanda has been able to make the culture of peace strongly embedded in its people’s consciousness and in the moral fabrics of society only with the period of about twenty seven years. There are jargons that border on discrimination for reason of creed, race and culture and economic and social status which were declared as a legal taboo in Rwanda and have been erased in the people’s dictionary. The principal thrust of their educational system is geared towards the development of individual conscience founded on justice, equality, compassion and the inviolability of human life and dignity.

Rwanda is predominantly a Catholic nation and it regards freedom of religion as a paramount right over any other civil and political rights here. But the Rwandan government does not rely on religion for the transformation and development of the moral conscience of its nation and people. Like the Catholic Church, which was silent when Adolf Hitler gathered millions of Jews into the gas chamber and eventually suffocated them to death, the Catholic Church has also been accused to have contributed to the instigation of genocide in Rwanda. In fact, two Benedictine nuns were convicted of genocide here in Rwanda, and are now serving prison sentence for the rest of their lives in hard labor.

Closer to home, during our plebiscite campaigns for the ratification of the Nene Pimentel law on the establishment of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); for the ratification of another law creating the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD); and for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) which established the current Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), church leaders had situated themselves in the opposite side of the political fence, except for few religious leaders like Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, a staunch advocate for peace in Mindanao, and Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, who is popularly known as the Mindanao Prophet because of his determined and continuing campaign for peace also in Mindanao.

Memorialization

How did Rwanda rise quickly from the ashes of that genocidal strife? Rwanda has quickly gathered the broken pieces of its own self and made them whole again by perpetuating the memory of the carnage in its national consciousness from generation to generation. The occurrence of such carnage, including the barbarity through which it was perpetrated and the historical and socio-cultural and the political and economic contexts that led to it is now part of the school’s curriculum in Rwanda. Highlighted in the study of Rwandan’s history is how the imperialist agenda of Belgium and of Germany, with its dubious policy of tribal divide and socio-economic segregation on the basis of wealth and material possession, has given rise to a genocide which had claimed about one million lives and the displacements of many more during that 100-day carnage.

Moreover, Rwanda established its genocide memorial park where the remains of the victims of genocide were buried. A tour inside a gigantic building located in the memorial park is tears-inducing, emotionally busting, but, at the same, educational and commitment-setting. Displayed inside the building, which were divided into different chambers are artifacts, pictures, and videos of what had happened during that 100-day carnage. Video testimonies of genocide survivors are also being shown in many chambers within the building. But, what can be seen there are not only physical artifacts, and photo and video accounts of the carnage, but also the chronological accounts in its history as a nation that eventually led to the carnage.

Imam Manahan Bayao, in-charge of the mosque in Barangay Malisbong, Palimbang in Sultan Kudarat, points to bullet holes inside the masjid where the infamous Malisbong Massacre took place on September 24, 1974. Photo taken 14 March 2021. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

The photos of innocent and beautiful boys and girls, in their very tender age, with corresponding information about their favorite foods and plays, how they want to become and the manner through which they were killed (shot, smashed on walls and grounds, cut by the use of machetes, their tender bodies mangled with the use stone and bricks, pierced by wooden poles, etc) were prominently displayed in the tail-end of the building. Just by looking at these photos tears roll profusely from our eyes without us noticing it. A tour inside this building is commitment-setting because it enlivens one’s fervor to offer himself or herself in the altar of sacrifice for the just cause for peace. It is a commitment never to stand idly by while the peace process is made to hang in the balance by government’s inaction.

Rwanda has also designated a month of mourning to commemorate that particular strand of its history as a nation in order to refresh the people’s memory about the carnage and the contexts that made it happened. The genocide in Rwanda is a state-sponsored genocide, and yet governmental institutions had found courage to accept their mistakes and perpetuate the memory of such mistakes in its history and in its history yet to unfold so that this generation and the next will prevent its repeat.

It is our view that the people, in general, and government institutions, in particular, are not so concerned about our campaign for peace because of our country’s lack of historicity on the series of incidents of carnage that had happened here in Mindanao. There are very important pieces of history in Mindanao which involved the massacres, other form of mass killings and rapes of women, young and old alike; that need to be perpetuated in our national memory, together with the social and structural contexts that are deeply rooted in our systems of life that led to these mass atrocities. In this way, like the people of Rwanda, we can also, in unison, sing: “Never again; never again!”

In our country, there were hundreds of genocidal incidents that are ought to be perpetuated in our national memory, among them are: 1.) The Jabidah massacre which served as a flash-point for the Moro struggle in Mindanao; 2.) The Malisbong massacre which claimed more than a thousand lives; 3.) The “no man’s land” in Jolo, Sulu; 4.) The siege of the Island Municipality of Tandubas in Tawi-Tawi which resulted to the destruction of the Notre Dame schools; 5.) The massacre of the troops of General Teodolfo Bautista in Patikul, Sulu; 6.) The beheading of the soldiers in Basilan; 7.) The encounter in the Marcos Highway and the annihilation of Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao which left hundreds of dead bodies of soldiers, moro fighters and civilians scattered on the ground; 8.) The armed encounter in Mamasapano, Maguidanao, which claimed the lives of almost a hundred lives of civilians and both the state and Moro rebel forces; and 9.) The violent armed conflict between the Moro Blackshirts and the Ilagas which resulted to various incidents of mass killings, rapes of women and girls and the burning of many basic communities.

Memorial centers should have been established to perpetuate into our national memory these black marks in the history of our country, together with the social contexts and past events that led to these carnages. Like the government of Rwanda, our government should have been honest enough to accept that the unjust socio-cultural and economic structures and social policies, specifically related to land and natural resource tenures, and the use of military might to enforce these unjust social structures and policies had given birth to the protracted and continual blood-lettings in Mindanao and its Islands.

The failure of government to put up memorial sites for these incidents and the contexts and the lessons that may be derived from them has actually reinforced the already existing prejudices and bigotries between and among the different peoples in Mindanao. Having allowed these incidents to be subjected to free-for-all interpretative workshops by dominant sectors of society, the ruling classes that wield political and economic power have actually benefited from these social divisions and the growing mistrusts between and among peoples of Mindanao. Moreover, the act of the state’s coercive instruments to force these unjust social structures and policies into the collective spine of the Bangsamoro people has given rise to protracted war in Mindanao.

The drabness that characterizes the people’s reactions on the campaign for the extension of the term of the BTA as an indispensable formula for the completion of the infrastructure of peace in the BARMM may be attributed to this failure of government to nurture historicity amongst its people. Thus, instead of culling out precious lessons from these incidents through the constant summation and distillation of historical events, the carnage that characterized the armed conflict in Mindanao is instead being used as a foundation stone to enflame prejudices and bigotries between and among the hapless peoples in Mindanao. This must not be made to continue.

The same level of drabness is also reflective of the lame reactions of government officials, in both the executive and legislative departments, relative to the campaign for the extension of the term of the BTA as recommended in the results of the mid-term assessment conducted by the MPC under the auspices of Atty. Mary Ann Arnado.

As I articulated before, our government officials should not wait for the seeds to die in order to make them grow. They should not wait for the carnage of genocidal proportion for them to embrace peace and to seize every moment that makes peace possible.

Their continued complacency will stain their hands with the blood of future heroes and martyrs.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ben Sumog-oy is the Action Officer of the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement , General Santos City Chapter (IDEFEND-GenSan), Volunteer Head of the Para-legal Unit of the Sentro ng mga Progresibo at Nagkakaisang Manggagawa-SOCSKSARGEN (Sentro-SOCSKSARGEN) and of the Local Mass Struggle (LMS) Unit of Akbayan-GenSan]

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