PEACETALK: Reflections on the GRP-MILF Peace Process, By Rudy B. Rodil

The topic in our session in the programme is what happened to the peace process.

Honestly, it is one topic I do not want to talk about.  I would rather put it behind me and move on, as I am trying to move on. My reflection this morning is about what I have done at my end since the non-signing of the MOA-AD.

The first thing I did immediately after Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s announcement of the GRP panel’s dissolution on September 3, 2008, was to hand in the two little tools that I signed for in the GRP office, the Smart Bro modem and the 8GB USB. The second thing that I did was to buy my own modem and USB so that I continue to remain in touch with the world. I have a life to live and must move on.

From what I have heard, two significant events transpired at the government end between Sept 3 and Dec 31, the announcement of the new peace paradigm (community dialogue and DDR or Disarmament, demobilization and Reintegration) and the appointment of the new GRP Panel chair,  Usec Rafael Seguis of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the designation of three panel members, DAR Sec Nasser Pangandaman, former General Santos Mayor Adelbert Antonino and former Party-List Congressman Ronald Adamat, a town-mate.  I read about the selection of Atty Tomas Cabili of Iligan City as the fourth member but I did not get the confirmation until January 6, 2009. They have just inherited a very complicated life.  I wish them all the luck in the world.

Having retired from the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology campus in Iligan City in October 2007, my only participation in government, after the membership in the GRP Panel was as consultant, from September 1 to December 31, 2008. At this very moment I am a private citizen, and a doctoral student trying to finish my dissertation on ancestral domain at the University of the Philippines. Some friends have jokingly asked me: What will you do with your Ph.D when you are already retired? To which my only reply is a smile. The truth is no one retires from ancestral domain. Until we are able to reckon with it collectively, it promises to be a problem for all concerned, for Mindanao and for the whole Filipino nation, for the next fifty years.  I would like to share with you my experience in the last four months of 2008.

My talks more than doubled after the aborted signing of the MOA-AD on August 5, 2008, indicating the great number of people who wish to understand the Mindanao conflicts, what happened to the peace process, why it is necessary and why it must go on.  I had 10 engagements in September, 14 in October, 12 in November and 11 in December. Or 47 in four months. The topic is always the same. There are three major political conflicts in Mindanao today, the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination, the Lumad assertion of their own distinct identity and fight (unarmed) for self-determination and the struggle for national liberation from the three fundamental social evils of US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism. I cap the session with an update on the GRP-MILF peace process and the MOA-AD.

The audiences vary widely both in category and number. Ranging from ten to 800, the biggest in number are educators and students, followed by community leaders, church (social action) leaders both religious and lay, and Lumad traditional leaders. There were also media practitioners, Philippine National Police and former MNLF rebels-turned PDAs or peace and development advocates. On these occasions I get the chance to clarify a host of issues raised by the audiences. I am also alerted to matters which certain groups of people regard as sensitive.  

A good number of them were anti-MOA-AD but, on the whole, after my presentation, after I have clarified the legitimate demands and claims of the Bangsamoro, expressed through the MNLF and the MILF, they come forward to make their own clarifications. For instance, they are not really against the MOA-AD, what they are opposed to is the apparent attempt by the President to use the MOA-AD as a stepping-stone to advance her alleged political ambition to remain in power. Or they thought that their lands would be taken from them by the MILF once
these become part of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

Among the Moros, the MOA-AD is a legitimate response to the legitimate claims and demands of the Bangsamoro people. I underscore “legitimate” because the oppositors to the MOA-AD generally do not seem to recognize the legitimacy of Bangsamoro position.   

The Lumad communities generally recognize the legitimacy of the Bangsamoro struggle but they assert that they are different, they are a distinct people in their own right, and they have their own legitimate ancestral domains and fundamental right to self-determination. The respective territories of the Bangsamoro and the Lumad have been agreed upon in peace pacts called sapa, pakang, dyandi, and so on, between their ancestors and do not wish to be included in the Bangsamoro ancestral domain. The Being native inhabitants of Upi and South Upi in Maguindanao, the Tedurays generally accept the MOA-AD but insist upon recognition and respect for their own ancestral domain and right to self-determination.

The story of the displacement and marginalization of the Moro and Lumad communities accomplished through the government-sponsored resettlement programs are generally not known to the majority of the Filipino people and ought to be taught in school. There were also Moro datus who voluntarily facilitated the entry of settlers in their own communal lands.  

The history of Mindanao, especially of the Moro and Lumad communities as a whole are not contained in Philippine history textbooks and should be made an integral part of written Philippine history.

At the core of our conflicts in Mindanao involving the Moro and the Lumad, is the problem of tri-people relationship. Anti-Moro sentiments among Christians are inherited from the Spanish-Moro wars of the Spanish colonial period, all of three hundred thirty-three years, when Spaniards used Christians to fight Muslims and the Muslims hit back at the Pinoy Christian communities when they retaliated. Now, we still have deep-seated animosities, negative energies that remain to be transformed into positive relationships. We have many examples of excellent instances of harmonious tri-people relations all over Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan but these tend to be overwhelmed by the negative ones, especially in times of intense conflict.

The Bangsamoro cause, as with the Lumad assertion is the legitimate struggle of minority groups and cannot be resolved through the usual democratic processes or through majority voting or drowned with the voice of the majority. This is why there is negotiation.

Ancestral domain is a historic problem, older than the Republic of the Philippines, older than the Constitution, and should not and cannot be resolved within the current constitution. It was a by-product of colonialism. The current constitution is not designed to solve this historic problem. Which is why we need constitutional change. If we can amend the constitution to accommodate parity rights of the Americans, why can’t we amend the constitution to solve the problem of our own people?

Ancestral domain claim is anchored on the legitimacy of native title, that the land covered by native title is deemed to have never been public, which in turn is enshrined in both American and Philippine jurisprudence through the IPRA’s recognition of the Cariño doctrine. Unfortunately, the resettlement program of the American colonizers, subsequently pursued by the Republic of the Philippines, is premised on the assumption that the land offered for resettlement were public lands. This contradiction makes ancestral domain issues, entangled with problems of tri-people prejudices, very complicated indeed.        

We need to focus our greater energy on producing a new generation of young citizens among the tri-people who recognize, respect and accept each other as equals.

Being an educator for most of my adult professional life, I cannot help but be excited by the response of audiences that belong to the BACS and DACS and CEAP. BACS stand for Bicol Association of Catholic  Schools in the entire Bicol region, as far as Catanduanes.  DACS means Davao Association of Catholic Schools, and CEAP is Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines. I had a talk with the president of the CEAP who is also the president of the BACS and he is convinced that we can, through concerted effort in schools, create a new peace constituency, a new majority that is appreciative of the legitimate claims of the minority groups.    

While a lot of people dislike community dialogue and DDR as part of the new paradigm shift of the government, it can actually be used to publicly clarify many things, especially the fundamental issues that were raised in the MOA-AD.  While no right-thinking rebel would entertain disarmament without political settlement,  DDR can actually be used in community dialogue to explore how we can get rid of all the loose firearms all over the country.

While physically exhausting, I see my experiences of the last four months as sources of enlightenment. And hope. Given the proper information, people generally have a lot of goodwill within them and can be tapped in the interest of the peace process.

Peace is perhaps best seen not only as the formal negotiation between the GRP and the MILF, but also as the process of bridging the gaps at the level of the tri-people of Mindanao.

Finally, having listened to Lumad leaders all over Mindanao and Palawan in two big assemblies, one in Butuan, the other in Davao City, I am convinced more than ever that it will be in the best interest of the whole country if a negotiation with the Lumad can be organized so that their own legitimate claims and demands can be given proper focus. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Rudy Rodil is a Mindanao Historian and member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front (1993-1996) and with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front from August 2004 until the panel’s dissolution on September 3, 2008).

Comments

comments