COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/26 October) — Sulu st district Representative Tupay Loong and Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon sat beside each other at the end of the four-hour public hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Upi, Maguindanao on October 22, both of them former warriors who faced each other in battle in Panamao, Sulu 42 years ago: Loong with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Biazon with the Philippine Marines.
Both said they are tired of war and hope the BBL will be “the final cure.”
Addressing the predominantly Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) crowd, Loong asked, “bakit tayo nandito (why are we here?)
“Andito tayo ngayon because of the loss of lives of our people since 1972 when the Bangsamoro people fought against the government for self determination,” Loong said.
For Biazon, “the condition of unpeace is a disease” for which “we need to find a cure.” The 1976 and 1996 peace agreements between government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), he said, did not fully solve the problem, so he hopes the BBL “will be the final cure to this disease.”
The 80-year old Biazon is a retired Marine general who became Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and was later elected Senator. He spent 18 years of his 34-year military career in Mindanao, particularly in Lanao, Sulu, Basilan, “most of them in conditions of unpeace,” he told MindaNews.
Loong explained to the audience that “Mindanao was a Moro province a long, long time ago. But the history of yesterday is no longer the reality today. Therefore, we have to resolve the problems on the basis of what is the reality today.”
He said he and Biazon were former combatants but “now you can see, we are here together, listening to you” to hopefully solve “almost half a century problem that has cost so many loss of lives,” citing the figure of at least 120,000 combatants and civilians.
That figure is associated with the estimated number who perished in the war from the 1970s to the signing of the Final Peace Agreement between government and the MNLF in 1996.
There is no available statistics as yet on the number of deaths of combatants and civilians in the conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a group of former MNLF members who broke away in the late 1970s, and the number of deaths from 1996 to the present, but in terms of mass evacuations, nearly a million residents were displaced by the Estrada administration’s all-out war in 2000, a little over 400,000 in the Arroyo administration’s Buliok war in 2003 and around 600,000 again in 2008, also under the Arroyo administration, in the aftermath of the aborted signing of the GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
oong said the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is important “if we want peace in Mindanao, in the Bangsamoro Homeland.”
He said the difference between the peace agreements of 1976 and 1996 and the 2014 agreement in that there were no consultations then compared with now. He urged the public to say everything they want to say so the Committee can study their suggestions and comments.
Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, who sat beside Loong, said the BBL is “part of a continuing struggle, continuing dream to achieve what we want to achieve” following the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.
Sema is wife of Muslimin Sema, Secretary-General of the MNLF during the 1992-1996 peace negotiations with the Philippine government. Sema later became ARMM Executive Secretary and was later elected as Cotabato City mayor. He is now chair of one of the factions of the MNLF.
“Let us not belittle the sacrifices of the revolutionaries, the MNLF, the MILF… Give us an opportunity to show we can govern ourselves… we are not separating from the Philippines. She urged the IPs to always remember that both the Moro and IPs came from the same ancestors, the brothers Mamalu and Tabunaway.
“Ayaw na po naming dumanak ng dugo” (We do not want bloodshed anymore), Sema said. “Let’s not allow the extremists to come in. Let’s give this law a chance,” she said.
Loong’s and Biazon’s reminiscing continued over dinner at the residence of the Semas.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, a member of the Committee said that during an informal discussion after dinner on October 22 between the Committee members and Sema’s group, Loong, “in the middle of the sharing, said he is tired of war and hopefully Sema’s group will come on board. Then Biazon butted in with this nostalgic story of him and Tupay fighting each other in November 42 years ago. The two old warriors then stood up side by side and shook hands. The discussion then revolved around the possible convergence of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).”
Zarate said Sema told them “they are open to the convergence talks as called by the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation(OIC).
The OIC convened a meeting with the MNLF and MILF on October 13 -14 where the parties agreed on the operationalization of the Bangsamoro Coordinating Forum, a mechanism set up under the auspices of the OIC.
In December 2013, the resolution of the 40th Conference of Foreign Ministers meeting in Ghana called on the Secretary General to exert efforts to “find common grounds” between MNLF and MILF and “develop a mechanism to ensure that the gains of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement on the implementation of the 1976 Peace Agreement are preserved and the (GPH-MILF) Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its Annexes are fully implemented with the end goal of integrating the gains achieved in these peace agreements in the Bangsamoro Basic Law.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)