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Civil Societies Urge Dialogue to Resolve Sabah Conflict

CALM down, don’t shoot but instead let’s talk to peacefully resolve the Sabah crisis.

This was the appeal made by five large civil society networks to the Sulu sultanate and Malaysian and Philippine governments amid the escalating use of firepower in the North Borneo province. The NGOs who made the appeal are Mindanao Peace Weavers (MPW), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict-Southeast Asia (SEA-GPPAC), Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), Aksyon para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan (AKKAPKA) and Derepa te Erumanen ne Menuvu (DEM). Peace Advocates Zamboanga and its partner Interreligious Solidarity for Peace are members of MPW.

“On the unfolding tragedy now threatening parts of Sabah, we urgently call upon President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak of Malaysia, the Sultanate of Sulu and its heirs led by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, together with any and all individuals, organizations and networks who disavow violence and conflict, and who support dialogue as their primary mechanism for peace, to now unite and work towards bringing all the involved parties together in seeking a peaceful resolution to the issues at hand”, the statement said.

The civil society groups lauded the present and past practice of the protagonists to resolve conflicts particularly the Bangsamoro rebellion.

But, “The convergence of conditions that engendered this event (Sabah crisis) shows us all that a number of underlying issues may have remained long simmering, out of sight to most of us, and now needs to be addressed sensibly and soon,” they admonished.

They expressed concern that the now-armed conflict will take collateral toll on Filipinos who have been residing and working there. “The threat and deprivation forced upon the lives and futures of the innocent brought on by conflict, particularly those impacting on women and children, remains unacceptable to us”, they asserted.

Echoing the rising call by international bodies for dialogue to resolve the issue, the statement further said: “We feel that the chance to remedy the Sabah situation is still at hand, granted we act quickly, calmly and with sobriety, remaining steadfast in our commitment to dialogue, negotiations and ultimately peace.”

They also warned that “We also should not let ourselves be swayed by the apparent machinations and apathy of those who selfishly see no benefit for themselves by staying on the path of peace (which) the majority of us have chosen.”

“We therefore call on the key actors, from the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia, the Sultanate of Sulu and its heirs, engaged by other stakeholders along with all of us who value peace above all, to sign on in calling for an immediate end to the violence and come together in a dialogue for peace on the issues pertaining to Sabah”, they concluded.

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ISP’s Candidates Forum

ONE congressional candidate asked the audience to say “I love you” to each other, another read a dead man’s affidavit accusing another candidate present of dirty election tactic, and a mayoralty candidate asked everyone to stand up and pray with him. But other than these surprises, the Local Candidates Forum spearheaded by the Interreligious Solidarity for Peace (ISP) last April 13’s achieved its objectives. Which is, for the candidates to inform the voters what – and express their undying commitments to – their individual platforms and plans on how to promote or strengthen peace in Zamboanga City if and when elected.

Not surprisingly, though, some candidates expressed a very limited understanding of what peace means, how it is uniquely constituted in a society as special as Zamboanga’s. If peace were an adobo, every community has its own recipe for how to cook it, excitingly different from others’.

That’s the principle Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF dished out in his opening remarks in the forum, held in Marcian Business Hotel and attended by a few hundreds community leaders. As important as the issues of the Bangsamoro peace process or the spiraling criminality in the city, there are other concerns that are “major! major!” as well: the welfare of street children, marginalized indigenous peoples (Badjaos and Subanens, etc.), urban poor, trafficked women, environment, etc. The structural violence, often created by governmental and social neglect, goes on and on – but should be ended by the candidates lucky enough on May 13 election day. That’s the challenge the forum presented to the candidates.

In varying degrees, most of these issues were discussed in the forum, quickly but hopefully enough to enlighten individuals in the audience as to who deserves their vote as far as their communal peace issues are concerned.

The open forum was superbly moderated by Dr. Grace Rebollos, in the sense that she prioritized equitably the questions from the audience, including from a Muslim street kid and an upland farmer. Fr. Calvo said in his opening remarks that an election is the most important moment in a democratic society. The plain and honest questions from simple folks like the street kid or rural farmer would let voters know in whom among the candidates they could entrust their future and their peace.

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Moro Homeland and Identity

WE can only but hail Malacanang’s announcement last week (February 25) of the appointment of a complete 15-man Transition Commission as a move that fast-tracks the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), in view and inspite of the increasing delay in the completion of the four annexes necessary to make FAB executory. The appointments are another sign that the Philippine government – as well as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as its newfound partner in the search for the peaceful settlement of the Mindanao conflict – are strongly committed to an announced timetable.

The Transcom has three functions. Primary is to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law which will translate into a Congressional bill that when approved will supplant the 20-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim MNindanao with a new autonomous government. Second is to push for any amendment of the Constitution if later on found necessary to institutionalize a truer Bangsamoro autonomy. Third is to coordinate socio-economic programs in the Moro territory especially during the transition between the abolition of the ARMM and the inauguration of a “New Bangsamoro Political Entity”.

There could be the usual criticisms coming soon against some of the appointees, but if Malacanang and MILF vetted well the nominees, they all should be equal to the challenges to their quite hard and highly charged tasks. As they say, the devil is in the details (of the envisioned Bangsamoro Basic Law). To not waste precious time, while waiting for the annexes’ completion they can start laying the groundwork for the drafting of the Basic Law, such as the mechanics for the indispensable sectoral or stakeholders consultations and reviewing alternative autonomy systems.

By FAB’s definition of who is the Bangsamoro, staking and harmonizing cultural and tribal sentiments and aspirations in one doable Basic Law will be a feat of wisdom, courage and justice. Mindanao is an enigmatic nation is nations, as the ongoing, spiraling stand-off in Sabah between the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysia brings to a dangerous, slippery fore.

Parenthetically, if the FAB is all about recognizing and restoring Moro historical and cultural identity and justice, the crisis in Sabah should be no less a major concern to the general peace settlement, for all the now-flying threats and rethorics. After all, he Sulu sultanate or its datus led the centuries of resistance against foreign domination of Mindanao, an epic struggle that in a very real and historical sense defines who is the Bangsamoro man or woman today, from the hills of Lahad Datu to the rivers of Liguasan Marsh. Time has considerably diminished the means of the sultanate, but to the people of Sulu archipelago, (royal and common) blood will always be thicker than water. The Bangsamoro may be a nation of many bloods but only one homeland: Mindanao and Sulu – and by the latter’s well-documented claim, Sabah, too, where some 800,000 of them live today. No homeland, no identity. (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)

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Blessed Are The Peacemakers

IN his message for the new years’ World Day of Peace, observed by Vatican every January 1 for the last 46 years, Pope Benedict XVI had for its theme and title one of the best-known Gospel beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers!

The Pope says that what makes this statement something true and real in and imperative to human existence is the fact that “Jesus’ beatitude tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort. . . It is the fruit of the reciprocal gift, of a mutual enrichment, thanks to the gift which has its source in God and enables us to live with others and for others. The ethics of peace is an ethics of fellowship and sharing.”

“Peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible. Our gaze needs to go deeper, beneath superficial appearances and phenomena, to discern a positive reality which exists in human hearts, since every man and woman has been created in the image of God and is called to grow and contribute to the building of a new world,” the Pope exhorts.

“The peacemaker,” he further explains, “is the one who seeks the good of the other, the fullness of good in body and soul, today and tomorrow. . .From this teaching one can infer that each person and every community, whether religious, civil, educational or cultural, is called to work for. . .the attainment of the common good in society at its different levels, primary and intermediary, national, international and global. . . The paths which lead to the attainment of the common good are also the paths that must be followed in the pursuit of peace.”

He then recommends how to pursue these paths in the spheres of valuing the sacredness of life and marriage, religious freedom, and economic rights (“In many quarters it is now recognized that a new model of development is needed, as well as a new approach to the economy”).

He makes a strong pitch for peace education, thus: “Cultural institutions, schools and universities have a special mission of peace. They are called . . . to the formation of new generations of leaders. . to the renewal of public institutions, both national and international. . . contribute to a scientific reflection which will ground economic and financial activities on a solid anthropological and ethical basis. . . to harmonize the various political currents with a view to the common good, (which) as an ensemble of positive interpersonal and institutional relationships at the service of the integral growth of individuals and groups is at the basis of all true education for peace.”

“In the end,” he concludes, “we see clearly the need to propose and promote a pedagogy of peace. This calls for a rich interior life, clear and valid moral points of reference, and appropriate attitudes and lifestyles. . . Thoughts, words and gestures of peace create a mentality and a culture of peace. . .There is a need, then, to teach people to love one another, to cultivate peace and to live with good will rather than mere tolerance.” (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)

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