Wake Up, Philippines!

The Mindanao problem, can we move forward?

Posted in Mindanao by Erineus on February 11, 2009

NOT only did the two-part documentary aired on ANC last week provide new insights on the Mindanao peace process. It suggested policy and action directions as well for future peace agreements. We thought that something like this could have been done even before the crisis in August. But it is still timely especially since the government had decided to renew peace talks and with a new peace panel headed by DFA Undersecretary Seguis. Too, a new adviser on the peace process had just been appointed – Secretary Avelino Razon who during these past weeks had been conferring with international peace experts – Johan Galtung, a Norwegian professor on peace and conflict transformation, and head of the Oslo Peace Center, and three Switzerland-based mediators — Nyasha Masiwa, advisor to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Ahmed Sabiel, advisor to the government of Sudan, and Kelvin Ong, advisor to the United Nations. They are now helping the government and the MILF reopen the stalled talks.

Needless to say, achieving peace in Mindanao is in fact the greatest challenge for our government, and one requiring a comprehensive and creative response. We therefore welcome this timely initiative by the producers of the documentary — the Embassy of Canada, The Asia Foundation, ABS-CBN; as well as anchors Tony Velasquez and Lynda Jumilla who ably facilitated some 20-30 stakeholders representing key peace protagonists, leaders of government, military, civil society, academe, media, church, and industry in a candid assessment of what is perhaps the most contentious development issue today.

The problem in Mindanao affects every aspect of national life and demands active public participation. This starts with a greater understanding of the issue which the documentary had provided. This, and future information and education initiatives could hopefully motivate everyone to participate in similar dialogues.

Among reasons given by negotiators and peace specialists on reasons for past failure are wrong timing, little knowledge about the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity and the Moro culture as well as prevailing biases and prejudices among many (Gen. Rodolfo Garcia); lack of political capital — low trust in top leadership, lack of rigor in the negotiation process (Marites Vitug, Hermogenes Esperon, Michael Mastura); inability to agree on the responsible authority – that it should be the national government that must prevail instead of the local government, the legislature, or the judiciary Media had painted an ugly picture of the MoA-AD and therefore was primarily responsible in fanning public anxiety (Mastura).

Another major challenge is that of trying to reconcile differences in perceptions, or at least arrive at a compromise on: (a) government stand on the DDR or disarmament, demobilization before rehabilitation and re-integration which is not shared by Chief Negotiator Iqbal who believes that one cannot give up arms before the resolution of the problem; (b) control of MILF of its own group, the need to confront issue of possible link with Al Qaeda and Jamiya Islamiyah which are said to have helped set up camps and trained MILF groups (Maria Ressa) which Iqbal denies. On collusion between MILF and the ASG, Amina Rasul noted a decrease in violence attributed to terrorist groups in 2008, thus a discrepancy in what was pictured; (c) issue of ancestral domain – Mastura’s response to Manny Piñol’s view about addressing poverty and ignorance before dividing the territory was – “it is not a matter of giving up territory to the MILF but a matter of right of the latter to their own land”; (d) economic development – improving productivity, education which are critical in attaining peace and stability is a view shared by several panelists (Fermin Adriano, Piñol, Dominguez) but others give priority to sovereignty, building political power and shared security and livelihood (Camilo Montes), or as Randolf Parcasio noted, while basic needs are important, it is not enough just as long as assertion for self-determination exists as a greater need; (e) that perhaps, it was “tactically wrong to sign an agreement and that instead, what could have been signed was a comprehensive contract” according to Irene Santiago. This of course is not the view shared by the MILF panel who think that there was no lack of consultation and that the MoA was not a “wicked document” as portrayed by the media.

The task of addressing the above is seen as a long-term process, an evolution, a process of “re-imagining” a desired future where development, peace and justice can be achieved even without a peace agreement, where we recognize small victories as a result of cooperation between the government and the people as shown in several productive barangays (Dominguez, Manlupig).

We look forward to a more in-depth analysis of the problem by those on the ground together with peace experts, historians, psychologists, communicators, and other social scientists. Will write about the implications of the lessons learned in subsequent columns. (My e-mail is florangel.braid@gmail.com)

By Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


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