PEACETALK: What happened to the peace process? By Mary Ann Arnado

It is always easy and convenient to point fingers on government, the MILF, the field commanders, the politicians, the ILAGAs and join that famous chorus line “we were not consulted”.  But since this is a Strategic Planning of the movers and shakers of the Mindanao peace process, I would like us to answer these questions ourselves?  What happened to the peace process and what happened to us?   

Why is it relevant to discuss the role of the peace movement in this crucial episode of the MOA-AD?  It is because Mindanao prides itself to be hosting one of the most dynamic and vibrant civil society in the Southeast Asian region.  You name it, Mindanao civil society will most likely have it.  From culture of peace, peacebuilding, dialogues, walk for peace, run for peace, peace conferences, peace zones, space for peace, peace concerts, peace rallies, fast for peace, peace what have you, we have it in Mindanao. 

But why is it that despite the high level of experience of the NGO community, majority of them were silent on the MOA-AD?  Just like the Catholic church, the peace advocates failed to rally behind the gains of the peace process.  In the case of the church, except for one or two bishops from Mindanao, the rest were silent.  Some even openly supported the arming of civilians and joined the thanksgiving mass celebrating the triumph against the MOA-AD.

During the height of the controversy the MOA-AD,  Datu Mike Mastura described the peace movement and the civil society to be in a state of cluelessness.  Many wanted to play on the safe side.  “Where were you in the Supreme Court?  Where were you when the peace panels needed you to defend the MOA-AD?  Before you had been asking us to continue the negotiations, let’s stop the war and resolve the conflict peacefully.  Now that the negotiation has borne fruit, you cannot be found anymore.” These were the strong words of Mastura as he spoke before leaders and representatives of peace networks in Davao City, last December 17, 2008.

Mastura explained that the nature of the conflict surrounding the Ancestral Domain agenda is not about relationships between Muslims and Christians.  The issue here is about interests.  Interests over resources, ownership, control and governance within the Bangsamoro political territory and that is why there are definitely interests that will be affected here.  No matter how Mindanaoans dialogue with each other, they cannot resolve anything by themselves alone because the problem is political and structural.  If the peace advocates gloss over the political aspect of the problem and focus only on the relational – they run the risk of simply pacifying the people, thus, in turn, sustaining the status quo.    

Peace education and the Culture of Peace seminars which flooded many of the communities in the conflict-affected areas in the last eight years fell short in educating the people about ancestral domain.  This is very apparent from the reaction of people which stems from lack of understanding, even boiling to ignorance, on the history of Mindanao.  As the negotiation advanced itself towards respecting the identity of the Bangsamoro people and the recognition of their right to self determination, the community processes of trauma healing, reconciliation, culture of peace, interfaith dialogue were not able to elevate the awareness of people on that level too.

The peace movement simply confined itself to non-contentious issues e..g paint for peace, art for peace, sing for peace – tapering the real-politics of conflict e.g. the amassing of vast lands by politicians, control of natural resources by bureaucrat capitalists in cahoots with foreign investors.  Some NGOs put so much time and resources into training the CAFGUs and the military on Culture of Peace and Interfaith Dialogue in the honest belief that they can transform the Armed Forces of the Philippines itself – an institution which is organically and intrinsically violent.

Divide and rule

It is common knowledge that the old dirty tricks of divide and rule is one of the factor that enabled Spain to rule over the Indios for 300 years.  The same policy has been adopted by the Americans and even up to now, it is strange that Mindanaoans and the Filipinos continue to fall victim to this policy.

Atty. Raissa Jajurie of Saligan-Mindanao lamented that the saddest part in the whole MOA-AD controversy is that again what was made to appear in the public discourse is that the Moros are out to take over the territories of the IPs (Indigenous Peoples).  Thus, the very strong opposition of the IP leaders as projected in a series of conferences and consultations organized by their support groups.  This has further widened the gap between the Moros and the IPs who, based on genealogy, are supposed to have come from the common ancestry of Mamalu and Tabunaway.  Instead of unifying the ranks of both Moro and IP in order to advance the struggle for their Ancestral Doman – in one way or the other – the IP’s have become a stumbling block in that process.  How do they address that remains a challenge to the traditional leaders and is one which is internal to both Moro and IPs.

What calls for a more critical review is how IP advocates and support groups who are mostly coming from the Christian Filipino majority have reinforced the divide and rule tactic, either wittingly or unwittingly, in their haste to protect the interests of the IPs.  It can be gleaned from their statements that there is a seeming dichotomy in the concept of Indigenous Peoples which tend to exclude the Moros.  This is a very dangerous tack and which again is a result of this collective bias of the Christian Filipinos against the Moros.   If this is how we approach our IP advocacy work, there is no way we can win the Ancestral Domain struggle as it is like one hand trying to cut off the other. 

Some even ventured to say that the Muslims should claim their ancestral domain in Saudi Arabia where they came from and not in Mindanao.  This is simply ignorance in the highest order.

While the questions raised by the IPs on the MOA-AD are indeed valid, this has been exploited by several groups to promote their own interests.  It even came to a point that the issue has been diluted as between the IPs and Moros.   Considering MPC’s long and far-reaching experience working with indigenous peoples – we attribute this blunder not on the side of the IPs but on the part of some support groups who, in their haste to protect the IPs, have in effect hurt the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people. 

If we review closely the statements of the IPs leaders – even those rabid anti MOA, they are very clear on their support and recognition of the Bangsamoro ancestral domain.  They recognize the Moros as their brothers following the peace pacts that they have entered into for generations.  With the caveat, however, (to) please respect also and recognize our own territories.  This could have been the message that was put forward in order to have a more unifying position.

Datu Migketay Saway explained that the struggle of the indigenous people including their Bangsamoro brethrens is a continuing struggle against colonialism.  “This is still part of our unfinished struggle to resist the foreign invaders.  The worst form of colonialism is the colonization of the mind itself.  If the mind is already colonized, it will be very difficult to undo it”.   Just like what is happening in the peace negotiation, it is unfortunate that those who invoke sovereignty, constitution and territorial integrity simply continue the policies of the colonial masters.  These people could hardly think out of the box because the mind has already been colonized.  It is unfortunate that for many Filipinos, they still regard Magellan as their hero for “discovering” Las Islas Filipinas and no thanks to that savage Lapu-lapu who attacked and killed Magellan.

If the historical narratives between the Filipino majority and the Bangsamoro people are as wide as the perspective of Magellan and Lapulapu, then there is really a huge task of relearning and unlearning that this country should do.

Now, both the IPs and the Moros are on leveling field – back to their age-long struggle.  Neither one has succeeded in reclaiming the fullest expression of their right to self-determination.  No thanks to IP advocates who cannot even imagine the Bangsamoro as an IP too.

Ways Forward

As we begin the year 2009 – how do we move forward?  How do we pick up from the pieces of peace that were thrown out of the drain in the last five months of 2008?  The International Monitoring Team has left and we are yet to realize the serious implication of such loss.  With at least 20 million a day spent to sustain the war in Mindanao and government coffers already hemorrhaging with corruption – this Republic is definitely going to go bankrupt if it could not untangle itself from the ongoing war in Mindanao.

Given the poor and worrying indications, there can be no illusion that a peace agreement can still be forged during the term of the Arroyo administration.  That is why the advocacy work should now focus on ensuring that the Ancestral Domain will remain high in the national agenda and become an electoral issue in the 2010 synchronized elections.  How the peace advocates can do that remains a big question as they are yet to go soul searching on the question “where shall we position ourselves’?  What is it that we will advocate if we have not defined our position?  If the NGOs can fast-track that process – 2009 will be a golden opportunity to go tit for tat, spade for spade with Presidentiables and Senatoriables, down to the local government units.  This can only be possible if we are considered as a force to reckon with in the first place.  If these politicians don’t think we can muster votes – they won’t even bother to waste precious campaign time to sit with civil society.

In the meantime, we have more than 500,000 IDPs who (have) yet to return home.  There is a serious humanitarian crisis despite the denial of government.  I don’t have to repeat the ordeals and suffering of these people in the conflict affected areas.  We saw and heard the same stories of the same people in the wars in 2000 and 2003.  After five years of respite, they are back again in the same vicious cycle of war and violence.  They should be the ones to ask: “what happened to the peace process?”  (Mary Ann Arnado, a lawyer, is the secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus).