FIELDS OF HOPE: Breaking the 3-year cycle of war

One of the familiar faces was Major Dickson Hermoso who just came back from one year military schooling in Malaysia.  Major Hermoso used to head the secretariat of the GRP ceasefire committee.  It was during his stint together with his counterpart Benjie Midtimbang of the MILF that the ceasefire mechanisms became effectively operational. 

The celebration was simple but festive. I could see the joy drawn in the face of everybody present during that night. Everybody felt a certain victory.  “We have broken the 3-year cycle of war in Mindanao,” everybody was saying.  They were referring to the wars in Mindanao that happened in 1997, 2000, 2003.

When summer passed last year without any war, I told everybody how glad I was that the three-year cycle of war in Pikit was finally broken. In my experience, usually war takes place in summer. Then, one of my friends reminded me, “Upppsss, Father, don’t say that yet.  There are still six months left before the year ends.”  “You are right,” I reluctantly conceded.

Then, the Shariff Aguak incident happened in July last year. “My friend is probably right. It was too early to conclude,” I told myself. MILF troops battled CVOs of local politicians for several days which displaced thousands of civilians.  There was fear that it would evolve into another full-blown war with the military being dragged into it. But thank God it did not happen.  Somehow, with the joint efforts of the IMT, Joint Ceasefire Committee, Bantay Ceasefire and other civil society organizations, the incident in Shariff Aguak was put under control.   

Just as we were rejoicing over the positive development in Shariff Aguak, in September the news of the ‘impasse’ or ‘breakdown’ of the Peace Talks exploded on the front pages of the newspapers. Political statements from both sides and military posturings alarmed many especially the civil society organizations. 

As a pro-active response, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus conducted separate discussions with the GRP and MILF panels, visited military camps, facilitated a peace consultation with Mindanao leaders and went to Manila to do lobbying work in Malacanang, DOJ, legislature, diplomatic communities, CBCP, media and civil society organizations.

Now, the year is over.  2006 passed without major encounter between government troops and MILF forces.  There’s reason to celebrate.  It is not just a victory of the people.  It is a victory of peace.  We would like to congratulate the efforts of the IMT, GRP, MILF and other peace advocates.

Indeed, the peace process has gone a long way.  Enemies in the battlefields are addressing their problems in the negotiating table over a cup of coffee.  They shake hands and tap each other shoulders.  They say you don’t shake your hands with your enemies with a clenched fist.  And they say that when you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies.  That is what is happening now between the two parties in conflict. Indeed, peace is possible.

I wish the year 2007, with the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, will yield more positive results that will benefit every inhabitant of this beautiful island.

(“Fields of Hope”  is Fr. Roberto C. Layson’s column for MindaViews,  the opinion section of MindaNews. Father  Layson is the former parish priest of Pikit, North Cotabato. He is  the coordinator of the Oblates of Mary Immaculates’ Inter-Religious Dialogue but still based in Pikit. He is the 2004 Ninoy Aquino Fellow for public service.)