The Mindanao Peoples Caucus welcomes President Benigno Aquino III statement made during his inaugural address that his government “will be sincere in dealing with all the peoples of Mindanao” and that he is “committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflicts, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.”
We are hopeful that Pres. Aquino will have the singleness of purpose and strong political will to bring about a full closure to the armed conflict in Mindanao. The GRP and MILF peace panels have already tackled all the substantive agenda in the negotiation. What remains is for the parties to now tackle a negotiated political settlement of this lingering armed conflict which is dubbed as one of the longest running armed conflict in the world.
Central to the resolution of the conflict would be to address the common issues of the tripeoples which is substantially rooted on historical injustice. For the Bangsamoro, this is reflected on their struggle for the recognition of their legitimate claim over their ancestral domain where they can effectively exercise self-rule and good governance in accordance with their own system of beliefs, faith and culture. For the Lumads this means protecting their ancestral domains from development aggression as represented by the interests of foreign mining corporations and big business entities. For the Christian settlers the struggle for land means the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program that would break the monopoly of the landed elite and protect the right of peasantry to their means of subsistence. These are common interests of the tripeoples that should be addressed and can form a basis of their solidarity instead of falling into the classic trap of “divide and rule”.
It is in this sense that we support and reiterate the advice of Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo to the Aquino administration to “be open to the principle of self-determination and probe how such a guiding principle could be implemented in fidelity to the spirit of the Constitution while transcending or amending its letter.”
As a confidence building measure Pres. Aquino should immediately reconstitute his government peace panel and resume talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This peace panel should have women representation and must be composed by individuals who are rooted in the realities and social conditions of the grassroots communities, and who have a firm grasp of the history and context of the past peace negotiations. This will help ensure that the current peace process will build on the gains of the previous negotiation and learn from its mistakes as well.
MPC also takes this opportunity to commend the declaration of newly appointed Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quntios-Deles that the government is setting up a compensation fund for those who had been displaced by the armed conflict. This is long overdue and must be delivered to the thousands of IDPs as soon as possible. Government must not only compensate for the damages e.g. the burning of houses; it must also punish those who burned the houses of civilians in the first place. The second part demands justice and will put an end to impunity of all war crimes committed especially against the Bangsamoro people.
True to the anti-corruption platform of Pres. Aquino, we also challenge Sec. Deles to continue the probe on alleged corruption within Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP); she should not only investigate but also weed out those personnel involved and bring them to the bar of justice. This is the only way to end the impunity and ensure that corruption will never again take root in the OPAPP.
Moreover, MPC recommends that OPAPP funds should be channeled to the local needs of peace building and peacemaking efforts rather than be distributed among rebel returnees which time and again have only become a source of corruption for retired generals. Funding priority must be given to the formal mechanisms in the GRP-MILF peace talks such as the Joint-Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (Joint-CCCH) which is playing a very critical role managing, preventing and resolving conflicts at the ground level.