Generally positive reactions but SONA still found wanting

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 July) – Reactions to President Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) were generally positive but the President was expected to say more.

The Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID) in a press statement said they “greatly appreciate the pronouncement from the President that the peace talks would start after Ramadan, the Muslims’ holiest month. In addition, we hope the President would order the military to stand down during the holy month of Ramadan to allow our Muslim sisters and brothers to observe Ramadan in peace.”

“We strongly agree with, and support, the position of the President that the end to the conflict can only be achieved through peaceful political negotiations that is inclusive,” adding that “military strategy will not bring peace but only misery and poverty to our people.”

“Peace is the only way to peace,” it said.

Pilar Afuang, executive director of the General Santos City business chamber, said “we have been given the real scenario on the Philippine status and given hope for the future. This is the first time it happened.”

But Afuang also said that she will “have to discuss with the business sector” the President’s call for a Public-Private Partnership.

For Vice Mayor Mayor Ramon Bungabong of Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, Aquino’s SONA was “the simplest but more exciting than all previous SONAs I’ve heard. At least it gives us hope that maybe the start for real social reforms is in the offing.”

Laywer Camilo “Bong” Montesa, a former assistant secretary in the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said he found the SONA “good” and “hard-hitting” but thinks the President needs to have a “broader circle of advisers on the Bangsamoro Problem. Just so that you will a better sense of it.”

“Noy, there is no insurgency problem called ‘situwasyon sa Mindanao.’ There is a Bangsamoro Problem or perhaps an MILF insurgency and it has been with us for over 30 years, costing billions of pesos, lots of lives and properties. It is a problem that is at present something we can solve, only if we put our hearts and minds into solving it,” Montesa wrote from Barcelona.

“While throughout history, the torch bearers of this struggle have been different – MIM, MNLF, today, its most visible vanguard is the MILF. The MILF has shown its resolve by waging an armed struggle against the Philippine State. While poverty, injustice, prejudice and violence provided that pool of grievances that gave rise to insurgent sentiments, the core issue is still sovereignty: the MILF seeks to have an independent Bangsamoro state within a certain portion of Mindanao while the Philippine State seeks to deny and defeat said agenda. This is the reason why we have a GRP-MILF peace process and not a GRP-Mindanao Situation peace process. The solution is political and since you are the President, it is upon you that the people look up to provide the political solution. You cannot shirk responsibility by throwing it back to the people. Dialogue is part of the solution but it is not the solution,” Montesa said.

“Noy, the Bangsamoro problem is one that is sovereignty-based. It is a problem of power and the authority to make rules in some parts of Mindanao. The MILF, in the name of the Bangsamoro people, is staring the Philippine nation in the eye and saying: ‘We are not Filipinos. We are Moros. We do not want integration. We want self-determination.’ What is our response? You are our leader, lead us to the promised land,” he said.

“ There is not a lack of dialogue. There is a lack of political will,” he added.

Montesa urged the President to “see the problem in Mindanao as rooted in injustice and that therefore what will bring peace is justice, justice for all.”

The PCID also found the President’s SONA wanting.

“We had hoped that the President would at least make mention of some concrete action like a budget to support a catch up plan for ARMM, the strengthening of governance and autonomy in Muslim Mindanao, the least served region in the country with the poorest development indicators,” it said.

It also noted that while SONAs are not expected to be very detailed and specific, the President’s first SONA last Monday “could have been an opportunity for the President to send the message that his Muslim constituents matter not just because they are viewed as part of a threat to the state but that they are citizens and owed the rights of a citizen to public service, same as the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Ilonggos and other Philippine tribes.”

But the PCID said they will continue to “have faith, however, that President Aquino, who is also the President of the Bangsamoro, fully aware of the mistakes committed by past regimes, will rectify these injustices and finally provide the Muslims in the Philippines the decent life they deserve.”

“We await his program to address the ‘legacies’ of the previous administration: the situation of the hundreds of thousands of refugees, the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, the victims of trafficking, and the oppressive situation of poverty, lack of opportunities, lowest employment rate, least served but with the worst human development indicators, poor governance and systemic corruption,” it concluded.  (MindaNews)