(Fourth of a series)
While the MOA-AD between the MILF and GRP can be the basis of lasting peace with the Bangsamoro in Mindanao and Sulu, we already see the negative reactions of Christians in North Cotabato and other provinces and of some legislators. Some of these reactions could be knee-jerk reactions with no solid basis. But I believe this is not always the case.
Two immediate reasons for the negative reception of the MOA-AD are lack of information regarding the contents of the document and lack of previous consultation with various stakeholders as to what the document should contain. No serious effort was apparently made to establish a supportive public constituency. Having consultations, asking for directions, providing progress reports – these are proven ways to have people participate in any matter that is of utmost importance to them and their future.
It remains true that many things cannot be negotiated in public, otherwise the plethora of opinions and suggestions, each one passionately presented and defended, would create disorder out of order. But there is a certain irreplaceable and indispensable benefit to people’s participation through consultation and information dissemination at various points in the peace journey. I am quite certain that both the MILF and the GRP have set a certain time for extensive consultations, perhaps when referendum and changes to constitution/law are to be made. But present reactions cannot wait for that time.
The journey to peace in Mindanao is inarguably long and tedious, with many stops and detours. It is almost impossible to accelerate it. Milestones have been set along the way, one of which was the 1996 peace agreement. These milestones are marks of progress. One would think then that along the arduous and difficult journey, certain stops should been made to ask for directions, consult people, set goals and then obtain consensus points at the roadside negotiation table.
This, of course, could simply be hindsight wisdom. Be that as it may, it is wisdom to consult, ask questions, and secure assistance regarding directions and goals from stakeholders, left, right and center. For the government – consult with the different branches of government and with the people directly affected by conflict. For the MILF – consult with the Bangsamoro people, with the MNLF, and with the ARMM. I am not sure that any of these consultations were done -- and in a satisfactory manner. On the GRP side, the negative reactions are open and even hostile. On the MILF side, much less so, except for some ARMM reaction. But the question of Bangsamoro unity (MILF, MNLF, ARMM, and their various constituencies) on the MOA-AD has yet to be established.
For the Bangsamoro people with three different groups wanting to speak in their name, not counting the extremists who claim a certain political or even ideological identity, the need for consensus is as important as for the GRP. For the MILF it may not be as apparently urgent.
There is certainly the imperative of educating all the various constituencies and stakeholders as to the contents (concepts and principles, territory, resources, and governance) of the MOA-AD, their bases in history and in law, the steps still to be taken, the recognition of mutual rights, as well as the mutual sacrifices needed by both peoples, Bangsamoro and non-Bangsamoro.
For the non-Bangsamoro people, knowledge of Moro history will sometimes make a bloody entrance because of mutual prejudices and biases, entrenched through four centuries of attitudinal and psychological buildup. A certain injustice to the Bangsamoro people is not a concept that is easily understood by the non-Bangsamoro, much less accepted. One can already perceive the truth of this statement in the immediate remarks of some politicians regarding the MOA-AD. In their present level of understanding of Bangsamoro history and culture, I doubt very much if they could ever acknowledge the right of various peoples, including the Bangsamoro, to self determination, a fundamental right already enshrined in the present Constitution.
For both peoples, the key to the acceptability of the MOA-AD consists, I believe, in the following: consultation and dialogue, information and education, and building a constituency supportive of the general goals and specific objectives as well as the processes and contents of the peace negotiations.
The Temporary Restraining Order issued by the Supreme Court is an occasion for all of us to reflect on this key to acceptability and work on it. Precipitous haste is not a wise response to urgency nor the way to acceptability.
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
August 9, 2008