Sunday, May 30, 2010

Peace in Southern Mindanao: Beyond the Rhetoric, Hope

Christian politicians generally have a skewed view of the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Their view reflects that of the great majority of Christians all over the country. It consists of the following:

(1) The ill-fated MOA-AD sacrificed national sovereignty and territorial integrity for the sake of peace;
(2) The present peace negotiation between the GRP panel and the MILF is a repeat of the same;
(3) Like the previous peace talks, the present attempt is characterized by lack of consultation and transparency;
(4) Any “midnight” signing must be forestalled;
(5) The fundamental solution to the conflict in southern Mindanao is not a peace agreement, but a comprehensive no-nonsense economic development program.

Such a view, no matter how skewed and incorrect, has been used in the election campaign by politicians at the local and national level as an issue to gain votes from Christians in Mindanao. At the national level among the more prominent were Senators Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas. The rhetoric was strident and shrill. No Christian politician dared to go on a limb to defend the present peace talks for fear of losing Christian votes. The rhetoric has successfully glossed over the truth, despite some clear presentation of the government position by the GRP group.

Under the Noynoy Aquino regime, will the peace process progress despite the election campaign rhetoric? There are signs of hope:

(1) Instead of biding his time and even before he takes his oath of office, the president-elect has chosen his primary peace negotiator;
(2) Ging Deles, a person-oriented but hardworking technocrat basically known for her peace advocacy, is familiar with the peace-conflict terrain in southern Mindanao.

These are signs of good will and good intention on the part of the incoming chief executive.

On the part of the MILF, that it has reportedly established a common ground with the MNLF is promising. I also hope that the wisdom of the late Chairman Hashim Salamat who wanted, I believe, to establish peace within the parameters of what he realized as irreversible historical and geographical developments would continue to influence the Bangsa Moro leaders who carry on his legacy.

But the pitfalls regarding the peace process are legion. The incoming Congress (Senate and House) is filled with personalities that generally opposed the MOA-AD. The temptation is strong for the incoming administration to start from zero and not to follow in the footsteps of a peace negotiation that it perceives not only as a “failure” but also a “betrayal” of the Constitution. The primary government negotiator might want to hew closely to the bidding of principals who have expressed mistrust regarding previous peace talks and even tried to discredit them in favor of economic development. It would seem that there is a wall of negative perceptions and feelings that the primary negotiator might have to break through. Her courage to stand up for her convictions is a great asset.

My unsolicited advice to the next GRP peace panel would be the following:

(1) Be open to the positive gains of previous negotiations and do not start from ground zero;
(2) Internalize the results of the wide consultations that have been conducted and be guided by them;
(3) 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;
(4) Consult the people and political decision makers whenever necessary and always be transparent;
(5) In the face of possible provocations, be persevering, patient and resolute until a fair and just final peace agreement is done;
(6) Both groups in the peace process are believers in the one true God of Peace; while working for peace, do not forget to pray for peace.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

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