Chairperson of the Goverment of the Philippines Panel at the Peace Talks on Mindanao
On March 27, 2014, we, the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), respectively represented here by myself and Prof. Abhoud Lingga, signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The Community of San Egidio was a living witness to this event and the many rounds of negotiations before the signing. The Community sits as a member of the International Contact Group (ICG). It was ably represented by none other than Señors Alberto Quartucci and Roberto Pietrolucci. I note with honor and pleasure that also a member of the ICG is the Indonesia-based Muhammadiyah, which Prof. Din Samsyuddin who is also here with us in this panel, until recently chaired.
The International Contact Group is our own version of the third-party “Friends of the Process” who accompanied the peace negotiators and the Malaysian facilitator as observers, facilitators, advisers, and partners in the journey to peace. You can see all of us in this photo as we celebrated the signing of the last annex to the agreement.
It took 17 years of negotiations to get us that peace agreement. Many mini-wars before and even during the talks had erupted in the southern part of the Philippines, where the minority Muslims or Moros, lived. More than 120,000 people have died since the 1970s up to the 1990s. Millions have been displaced from time to time. Children missed school, properties were destroyed, and sickness haunted the evacuation centers.
What made the peace agreement that we are now implementing, possible? How did we get this far in our peace process despite the huge gap that divided us?
Social scientists talk about concepts like the “balance of power,” “a hurting stalemate,” war fatigue, and so on as elements that affect the environment for peaceful solutions.
All these do come to play. But there were definitely two things that made the comprehensive peace agreement between us possible. Without these two, we would not have gone this far.
These two elements are none other than trust and faith.
There were good reasons for the two parties to hesitate to trust each other. Historical distrust due to legacy of Christianization under 500 years of Spanish colonial rule and 50 years of the American colonial regime bred this distrust. The Islamic sultanates resisted. Over the centuries, the Moros thus evolved a different collective narrative and identity, different from the Filipino majority.
Outbreaks of hostilities, break ups of the 1997 ceasefire, in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2008, made wounds fresh. On and off peace talks did not build confidence in both parties and among the general public.
When President Benigno Aquino III came to power in 2010, his administration took extra steps to rebuild the trust.
In August 2011, the first face-to-face meeting happened between the President and the head of the MILF, Ebrahim Murad. This extraordinary step opened doors and allowed fresh air in.
Government has steadfastly defended the process before its many critics. To the cry, “All-Out War!,” it responded with “All-Out Justice.”
Government leadership stayed the course amid all the unfortunate violent in these areas.
This is after all not a simple problem. There are many other armed groups and different stakeholders such as the migrants who have settled here, and the non-Moro indigenous peoples. Many see the complexity as reason to doubt the process, or any process for that matter, as all complexities cannot be solve by one process alone.
For its part, the MILF took pains to show that it was worthy of the trust. It pledged that it would indeed demobilize, and participate in democratic politics through civic and party organizations.
For example, despite uncertainties, MILF cadres have proceeded with building their political party called United Bangsamoro Justice Party. Many trainings have been conducted to prepare them for their future roles.
Last January, MILF forces mistakenly engaged police forces, resulting in the death of 44 policemen, 18 MILF combatants, members of other armed groups in the community, and several civilians. The public uproar almost brought down the peace process.
As a measure of goodwill, the MILF agreed to return the weapons seized from the government police. Last June, we began the process of decommissioning MILF weapons and combatants. These weapons have been stored in a site that is jointly guarded by the Independent Decommissioning Body, and the government and MILF’s Joint Peace and Security Team.
The many joint activities have kept this trust strong and worthy. Among such undertakings are: maintaining the ceasefire, cooperatively dealing with ceasefire violations, launching socio-economic programs like the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, repairing schoolbuildings and providing free medical service and haircuts in remote schools, and taking steps to decommission the weapons and combatants, among others.
But trust alone was not enough to sustain our process. We needed to have faith because that trust is challenged by every difficulty phase of the process and unwanted incidents. It can be challenged especially by those others who do not trust – politicians, other leaders, or ordinary folk who do not believe in giving this peace a chance.
To give peace its best shot, we also needed to have faith to see us through.
This faith can be secular – the belief in social justice, in the humanity of all, in the capacity of the other to deliver their part of the agreement.
It can be religious faith – belief in the sanctity of creation, that God shall help those who help themselves, that the just shall be rewarded, that His will shall be done. That in the bigger domain of the universe, there shall be order in chaos.
Without the trust in each other and the faith that our good intentions will see us through, our process would not have withstood all the challenges. We would have doubted and wavered.
Without trust in the other we become stingy – for instance in the kind of law that we will pass to institute the Bangsamoro autonomous government. Or even begrudge our patience, openness and understanding, and our financial resources.
Only with trust and faith can we have the generosity of spirit and the compassionate understanding that are essential to make peace in Mindanao, peace on earth possible.
Therefore, we continue our efforts to build the trust and the faith in our peace process on the Bangsamoro, in Mindanao, before the greater Filipino public and the bigger community of nations.
Thank you for this opportunity to share with your wonderful community of the faithful, our little story from our part of the world.