Hopes, fears aired on signing of Bangsamoro peace pact

DATU PIANG, Maguindanao (MindaNews /27 March) – The signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on Thursday in Malacañang after 17 years of on-and-off peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), comes at a most insecure time for Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities.

Government troops in Mindanao are on red alert as the communist New People’s Army, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary on March 29, has vowed more offensives against the Aquino administration. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters’ silence is making observers uneasy.

MindaNews saw two armored personnel carriers along the highway of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao last Monday. More tanks were deployed in the run-up to the signing.

The many factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are waiting on the side. The usually media-savvy Nur Misuari, MNLF founding chair who is facing criminal charges, has not been heard from since the 21-day standoff between government and MNLF forces in Zamboanga City in September. In fact, Misuari neither showed himself nor spoke during that period, his alleged statements mouthed by non-Moro spokespersons based in South Cotabato.

For Muslimen Sema, former secretary general of Misuari and now chair of one of the MNLF factions, told MindaNews “we have nothing to lose and fear.”

The indigenous peoples in the proposed Bangsamoro core territory, who asserted in December that they want to be referred to as “tribal peoples” to maintain their distinct identity as IPs within the Bangsamoro area, are restless over still unresolved issues on ancestral domain.

Just a piece of paper

“At the end of the day,” said Amina Rasul, President of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, told MindaNews, “a peace agreement is only a piece of paper. It will be made real by people.”

Rasul said she hopes leaders “have learned from the mistakes committed during the implementation of the 1996 FPA (Final Peace Agreement) and will truly work for the benefit of the Bangsamoro.”

Her fear? That leaders “will manipulate the GPH-MILF agreement for their own interests.”

Sittie Anida Tomawis, an Iranun from Maguindanao who is pursuing a law degree at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, told MindaNews at the sidelines of a Youth Conversations on the Bangsamoro forum in Cotabato City on Saturday that she fears “there may be more conflicts that will arise” when the agreement is signed, referring to other armed groups in the area such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway group from the MILF.

The MILF itself broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s after the 1976 Tripoli Agreement collapsed.

Tomawis is also concerned over the rights of indigenous peoples within the future Bangsamoro and hopes the new political entity won’t end up like the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it is replacing.

Benefit future generations

Saidamen Mambayao of C-CARE (Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms) envisions a Bangsamoro that will have a Ministry of Youth Affairs and a seat in the Bangsamoro Assembly so they can participate in the affairs of the new entity which will be a ministerial form of government.

After all, he said, the peace pact is supposed to “benefit future generations.”

But Mambayao fears the agreement will not be implemented “because of spoilers and many other negative factors.”

Jinggoy Mokudef, a Teduray youth leader, said he hopes the agreement would respect the rights of the IPs like him in the Bangsamoro and that they would be represented in the Assembly.

Jerome Sucor Aba, acting spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro-Cotabato, maintains that peace must be based on justice and that whatever agreement is signed would bring “totoong autonomy” (genuine autonomy).

Aba led some 50 young Moro men and women in a rally at the Tantawan Park in Cotabato City on March 18, the 46th commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre that led to the organization of the Moro National Liberation Front.

Danger zones

Sam Maulana, who represented the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA) at the rally, told MindaNews that the peace agreement is “a compromise.”

“It can work but I am still very worried about the danger zones ahead,” he said, among them the fact that the Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission may be revised by Congress.

He also hopes that those who will be appointed by President Aquino to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will not end up as puppets of the administration.

But Maulana acknowledges the “sincerity and honesty” of government and how the panels worked to craft the CAB.

Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz, the Archbishop-elect of Zamboanga, told MindaNews in an interview in his office in Kidapawan City last Sunday that he hopes the CAB “will succeed” but fears other armed groups would emerge and cause trouble.

Dela Cruz, however, hopes for a leadership in the Bangsamoro that would ensure the interests of the people are served.

Fraught with dangerous twists and turns

Former GPH peace panel member Irene Santiago (2001 to 2003) said she is “elated, of course, at the signing of the agreement.”

“I am particularly pleased with the strong participation of women toward the end of the negotiations. But the road ahead is fraught with dangerous twists and turns. The Filipino people must stand together with the Bangsamoro for indeed we are one state but many ‘nationals’ and today we declare this diversity as our treasure and not the source of devastating conflict,” Santiago said.

Caloy Manlupig of Balay Mindanaw in Cagayan de Oro said he hopes to see a “small victory, a simple success story – that will inspire the people that it is possible to achieve harmony, progress and peace in Mindanao.”

His greatest fear is that “mahimong sumpay lang kini sa pila na ka henerasyon nga pagpulipuli lang sa mga mapasagaron, hugaw ug kawatan nga pangagamhanan – i.e. RAG (Regional Autonomus Government), ORC (Office of the Regional Commissioner), ARMM. Pulipuli lang sa pag-abusar, pagpangawat, pagpasagad samtang misamot kalisod ang kinabuhi sa kadaghanan” (this will just be a continuation of the cycle of abusive, dirty and corrupt governance – from RAG , ORC, ARMM. Cycle of abuse, corruption and that would make life more difficult for the majority).

Greater Jihad

Gus Miclat, Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, hopes that both GPH and MILF “don’t drop the ball, enter into a meaningful and collaborative partnership; do projects, programs show themselves TOGETHER, reach out to and dialogue with groups such as IPs (Indigenous Peoples), MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), local politicians, Visayas and Luzon peoples, deliver high impact, sustainable and visible projects ASAP.”

Miclat fears that “IPs are cavalierly shunted aside, too much accommodation for local trapos (traditional politicians), both administration and opposition will use this for their respective political agendas, and the masses will not feel the significance.”

Mussolini Lidasan, Executive Director of the Al Qalam Institute at the Ateneo de Davao University, said the signing of the CAB is “the start of the Greater Jihad (struggle), a jihad against one’s inner desires and greed.”

“We pray that the MILF will remain true to their commitment of peace and dialogue among peoples. We pray that the Philippine government will finally address social justice in our homeland,” Lidasan said.