Peace on the Balance

AFTER quite a suspenseful wait, the highest court of the land has rendered its verdict: the all-but cooked GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) is unconstitutional. The justices blightly described the document as among others “whimsical” and “capricious”.

Such descriptions are understandable when they come from government officials and politicians who are sworn to defend the status quo, comprised of the various so-called democratic institutions of the Republic. These, unfortunately, are the same institutions that have abetted the state of war in Mindanao in the last 40 years – and throughout many more past generations that had witnessed the resistance of local Muslims against intrusions into their ancestral homelands. Basically speaking, the Manila government to exploit Mindanao’s economic resources for its own feudalistic interests has used its military and political agencies to stoke the Bangsamoro and other internecine conflicts.

But the effort to arrive at a peaceful settlement of the Mindanao conflict is increasingly taking the character of a Shakespearean drama. Extraordinary forces have been set in motion by certain events, and characters great and small are hard-pressed to take control of the tide of affairs. To BJE or not to BJE, that is the still tantalizing question.

The rising clamor and consensus, a kind of historic momentum, especially in the international community is “to BJE”. In a recent published article, some former American ambassadors to the Philippines opined that the protracted Moro rebellion can only be peacefully (how else?) settled through a framework that more or less resembles the bloodied but unbowed MOA-AD. Academics in the United States and Europe have also written articles endorsing the plan, urging negotiators particularly the Philippine government to think out of the box when seeking a final solution of sort. Diplomats from the European Union assigned to the Philippines now shamelessly say that an extraordinary plan is needed to end the conflict.

It is sentiments like these that perhaps embolden the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MI\LF) to declare that it will take the MOA-AD case before the International Court of Justice and the Organization of Islamic Conference. Such a move, however, is fraught with dangers. It can further polarize the traditional tribal and cultural divides in Mindanao and ignite again a genocidal fighting.

In at least one respect, the Supreme Court in shooting down the MOA-AD is correct to say that any political settlement should be arrived at through a process of public or democratic consultation, something which the erstwhile government negotiators failed to do. The US ambassadors say that in any negotiations as delicate as that between the Philippine government and the MILF, the imperatives for confidentiality should be balanced by the indispensability of consultation with stakeholders. It is an important lesson that Mindanao’s peace-makers, the MILF and hopefully any remaining sincere negotiators from the nation’s so-called establishment have learned from the fall of the MOA-AD. Thankfully, balance is intrinsic to creation, hence regaining the balance of peace from here on should be no big deal.

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Peace, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

RECENTLY, a mother and her three children while fleeing from the fighting aboard a banca were killed by a bomb dropped by an Air Force aircraft flying an operation against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the marshes of Cotabato. AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano promptly and sanctimoniously defended his men for the killings, and these, too, will be quickly forgotten in the minds of the public and the authorities in our rush for survival – like many similar atrocities in the past. Filipino including Bangsamoro life is cheap, possibly worthless, whether you are an evacuee in Mindanao or an economic migrant eking a living somewhere in the other side of the globe.

But the real killing of that Cotabato family or a domestic helper in the hands of her employer – as frequently happens these days – did not occur when the bomb exploded or the rope was wrapped around the girl’s neck. The tragic process actually starts when a military or political leader – going all the way back to Malacanang – signs a sacrosanct but anti-life document that involves stealing the people’s money, or a policy that pretends otherwise but in fact deprives vital basic services to tax-paying citizens, or raises the cost of basic commodities out of the reach of the poor. Once the decision is made in the glittering halls of Malacanang or a department, the rest of the zombie bureaucracy goes into mechanical action and implements the decision – like dropping a bomb on defenseless civilians or forcing a young girl out of school due to extreme but widespread poverty to eventually seek a humiliating, dangerous menial job in the Middle East.

Former US President Harry Truman, humbly educated and without a doctoral degree from a Boston university unlike President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when he assumed the presidency placed a sign on his desk that said thus: “The buck stops here”. It means he took personal responsibility for whatever government does while under his administration. Alas, we no longer make presidents the way we used to. Today, presidents and their bureaucrats and soldiers easily and even gleefully get away with theft and murder, little or no questions asked afterwards. It is as if Nazism or Hitlerism once again rules – the whole world this time – still in the name of some distorted democracy or a deceitful sense of peace and security.

Where vision is lost, the people perish, King Solomon in the Bible said. Add to that good governance, to put the truism in a more contemporary context. Or, on the other hand as the Chinese philosopher Mencius said, the more laws a government passes, the less peace there is in society. Some governments today only pass laws to enable them to steal or oppress more and cover up or justify their greedy deeds.

The results of such oppressive, perverse and anti-people laws are, among others, thousands of hectares of idle lands remaining uncultivated, unproductive – like we have in Zamboanga and other places in the nation – while most people go hungry, homeless and deprived of amenities and their humanity and dignity. Government officials and even some non-government organizations conveniently blame the poor for being poor and getting poorer, or by the same logic the killed for getting killed and killed some more.

World poverty and communal and structural violence are a complex, complicated human phenomenon, though man-made nonetheless. True peace advocates and social reformers probably know by now that there are no easy solutions. The most valuable gift they give to the poor and violated is a sense of hope, mostly springing from the teachings of religions. A more messianic, wholesale solution will require God’s Second Coming no less.

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Peace Advocates’ Appeal for Sobriety

(Adapted from an original draft statement issued by the Mindanao Peaceweaves on August 4, 2008.)

THE extent to which the intense displeasure over the impending signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has already reached an alarming stage. In the last few days we have seen how unarmed civilians from both sides of the conflict have lost properties and even lives due to attacks or harassments by either side. The current situation has started to re-create social disorder brought about by some hostile posturing both by supporters and opponents of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which is the essence of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. With the Supreme Court’s issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order on Monday, August 4, to stop the signing of the MOA in Kuala Lumpur, the situation on the ground points to a possible outbreak of war especially in Central Mindanao.

The Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRSMP), as a member of the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), a network of major peace groups and coalitions in Mindanao, appeals for sobriety and urges the parties in conflict to desist from any act that will aggravate the situation. And more importantly, for both government and MILF to observe and ensure enforcement of the ceasefire agreement at all times.

With the MOA signing stalled by the TRO, now is the most opportune time for government to have an honest to goodness dialogue with its constituents in order to get their acts together and to finally speak with one voice.

The MILF, on the other hand, must all the more demonstrate its resolve and commitment to peace by reigning in all its constituents and prove that indeed it is speaking and doing peace not only in the negotiating table but also on the ground.

We call on our religious leaders to take the moral high ground and be consistent with the religious teachings by serving as bridge builders and provide space for people to discuss the issues at hand more intelligently.

We also urge the government military command in Mindanao to stop the recruitment and training of civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs) and CAFGUs at this critical time when these organizations are mobilized for war-like agenda and interests only.

We most urgently make this appeal to local government executives to refrain from actions and statements that instigate divisiveness and violence out of a fear of the unknown; but, instead bring people together, educate and provide accurate information, address the roots of and manage these conflicts in ways not harmful to people but that which respects diversity and dissenting opinion. Evidently, the appeal for and resultant TRO by the Supreme Court as well as provisions for Constitutional exercises stipulated in the proposed MOA-AD attest to the democratic and transparent process that dictate the entire negotiation and settlement efforts.

We are calling on both business and academic sectors to serve as links in de-escalating the tension in areas affected by the conflict in Mindanao. For business groups to use their influence on local politicians and be mindful of how wars and conflicts can be bad for business in Mindanao. And for the academe to provide the venues/fora for information and education among the Moro, Christians and Lumad youths for greater solidarity and understanding.

We are ESPECIALLY MAKING AN APPEAL TO THE MEDIA to ensure responsible reporting and not to fan the emotions of people affected by the conflict that may lead to further deterioration of the situation in Mindanao.

We, peace advocates from Islam and Christian communities and organizations in Zamboanga City, more than ever appeal to all peace-loving Zamboanguenos and Filipinos to give peace a chance.

Zamboanga City

R. Catholic Covenor

Muslim Convenor

Evangelicals Convenor

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Peace-building Against Today’s Crises

OUR nation, like many others around the world, is in the tightening grip of an economic crunch. Prices of oil, goods and services are skyrocketing, and the supply of food is slowing. Despite the fact that a good many Filipinos are able to land jobs abroad, local unemployment and underemployment remain high. In Mindanao, unstable peace and order conditions considerably exacerbate these problems.

Economic crises tend to radicalize political decisions and polarize mass behaviors. The rise of Nazism, which led to World War II, was initially prompted by the economic adversities of the Germans. Hunger ignited the French Revolution and subsequently The Terror. Geography, Nature and history have been kinder to the Philippines, but at the cost of economic greatness thus far. Worsening global conditions and local security problems now conspire to rob the little that Mindanaoans have. The threat, real as it is, can easily lead to a hardening of political postures and social attitudes – and more violence than we already have and cannot afford.

It is a challenge that is best resolved long before the problem actually erupts, such as the not unlikely collapse of the ceasefire and another wide and open resumption of Bangsamoro hostilities, aggravated by the Maoist insurgency. The cost of such wars will not only be in government funds instead of getting invested in economic productivity going instead into ordnance and military expenses. Where fighters will march, farms and shops will lie idle; evacuees will be dependent on doleouts and will cause more social problems. Tourism and other economic enterprises will take a nosedive, if not collapse, further feeding a vicious cycle of conflict and violence.

This may look like a worst case scenario, though not morbid. It happened to Mindanao in the early 1970s, at the height of the MNLF war, and the price of then plentiful crude oil was only $3 a barrel. Today the price is over $140 an increasingly-scarce barrel, still rapidly rising, and the economy is now inextricably global. Even the Americans for all their money and social security programs fear that the sky is falling, indeed.

For Mindanao, the only hedge against if not solution to the threat lies in peace-building and peace. Terrorism has to be effectively curbed, the insurgencies peacefully resolved as soon as possible. A culture of peace observed by the majority will result in social and economic cooperation and dynamism – and a reasonably better life for all. Local politics will become truly benevolent, corruption must end its monstrous reign.

Faith and hope have moved mountains before, and Mindanaoans have an opportunity today to show that Manny Pacquiao is not the only one among them who has true grit and the heart of a champion.

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