PEACETALK: Lighting the way forward. By Silvestre Afable. Jr.

Biting at times but not bitter, the book for the first time bares the views of the MILF on the peace talks in a way that invites the reader not only to absorb, analyze, contend or argue, but to discern the core of the conflict and help defeat its roots. 

The GRP-MILF negotiations have been driven in positive direction through a combination of several factors: moving forward creatively on substantive issues, political will on both sides, able third party facilitation, a solid ceasefire mechanism combined with joint law enforcement features, aggressive international support, constructive grassroots activism and interfaith dialogue, among others. 

The crux of the Mindanao peace process is the idea of self-determination. The challenge is symbolic and the solution lies in the conciliation of symbols.

Given plainly, the era of “assimilation and integration” must now give way to an era of “freedom and responsibility” without a breakaway or erecting walls between peoples. 

Self-determination evokes strong emotions in the warrior and concern in established power structures. The fear of a new nation or sub-state spinning off from the main is valid, and must be conditioned by an enlightened gradualist approach.
 It seems that both sides in the negotiations support this approach not only because it avoids pitfalls of misunderstanding among constituencies that need to be transparently brought and not forced into the process, and allows the conventions that breed conflict to wash off as the Philippine Government and the MILF try to reinvent the strategies of peace. 

The most formidable task of the Philippine Government is to temper the legal and political reflexes that deny the existence of “shared sovereignties” or “nations within nations,” which have been long accepted in the realm of conflict resolution.

These reflexes are conditioned both by power manipulation by vested interests, and by the anachronism of a “national security state” as opposed to a “human security state” that is today’s standard of a modern nation.  

The most formidable task of the MILF is to embrace the poor and disenfranchised people of Mindanao, of whatever creed, origin or persuasion, and to elevate the struggle to a peaceful revolution of the whole rather than a rebellion of one of its parts.  

As they come together for a valiant vision, the Bangsamoro people also have many historical bridges to mend and rebuild. Inclusion and pluralism are the real foundations of power in a democracy that can sustain peace, feed the hungry, heal the sick and compete in the world. 

There is hope in the Mindanao peace process—to usher in peace, ward off terror, build prosperity and carry the torch of human dignity. On the negotiating table, we have seen the craft performed well on both sides in trying to speak their mind without fear, self-pity, anger or condescension.  

Peace talks are for people with eyes to see and ears to listen. And one must venture into the craft without fear or subterranean intent. The heart must be warm, the mind open, the vision impeccable and the spirit unyielding. 

And I will never find the words to express my appreciation to the thousands of people in the field who protect and preserve peace everyday—reporting a brewing fight, gathering the families to settle a dispute, nagging combatants to hold their fire, feeding the evacuees, teaching lessons to displaced kids under the trees, debating the issues in the schools and media, and more. The list of heroic acts done facelessly and namelessly by the champions of peace in Mindanao is endless; and we humble ourselves before them. 

By writing with candor and sensitivity, the author engages in a sincere exercise in peace building. I am glad that a leader close enough to the MILF has resolved to bring the whole message of the Front to the doorstep of the public, in the hope that the power of peace can enter and live in every Filipino home.  

Much as many may debate the facts and theses of this book, we must nevertheless embrace it wholeheartedly as a brave and compelling voice that lights the way forward.