Letting their guard downBy Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
“Guarded optimism” used to be phrase of choice of those involved in the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The phrase cropped up during the opening ceremonies of “Peace Month,” some weeks ago, when Teresita “Ging” Deles, chief of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said her office “maintains the government’s continued guarded optimism in the ongoing peace process.” “Guarded optimism” is a word-pair that seeks to convey that while a party may be “hopeful” of a successful outcome, it is also wary and watching out for any snags. That way, while appearing to be looking out for the proverbial “happy ending,” the party is also protected from any accusations of naivete by appearing to stay alert to any potential problems.
But at the conclusion of the 31st round (31 rounds of talks, imagine!) of exploratory talks between the Philippine government and the MILF, nobody was hedging their bets, it seemed. Both government panel chair Marvic Leonen and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal expressed “optimism” and “hope” for a good outcome of the talks.
“I am humbled and admit a certain level of guarded excitement as we make history in measured—and certainly painstaking steps,” said Leonen in a statement, and while his guard seems to still be up, he admits to at least a measure of excitement.
Iqbal for his part noted that “it is very clear that there is a buildup of excitement and expectations among our people, and including the constituents of the government. If we succeed to sign the framework agreement then we expect a very good atmosphere on the ground.”
Wow, not just optimism but excitement and expectations!
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The good feelings seem to have traveled all the way to Russkiy Island in Vladivostok, where President Aquino expressed “confidence” that he would be signing a peace agreement with the MILF within the year. In private talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak, it also emerged that the Malaysian leader, whose government has been providing a neutral venue and assisting in facilitation for both parties, is keen on being present at the signing of the agreement.
To be sure, snags are bound to be encountered on the way to the signing ceremony. “There are still elephants that we have to fight on the way,” Iqbal commented at the close of the preliminary talks. He conceded though that “with determination and commitment of both parties, we’ll be able to sign the document very soon.”
Malaysian facilitator Abdul Ghafar congratulated everybody for a job well done, saying he was aware that “the negotiations are very tough.” Still, in their joint statement, both Leonen and Iqbal admitted that both panels, facilitated by Malaysia, “reached substantive gains in the negotiations.”
Indeed, a joint statement released at the end of the talks sounds more like the closing to a soiree rather than the conclusion of talks between two previously warring camps. The 4-day meeting, it said, was marked “with mutual trust, sincerity and cordiality.”
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Ordinary Filipinos can only wait—and pray, hope and gather—that such optimism, expressed in the most hopeful language, will result in a lasting peace that will not only silence the guns of conflict but also signal a new era of peace and development in Mindanao and the rest of the country. Everyone benefits.
Or as Deles pointed out during the launching of “Peace Month”: “If we (all Filipinos) work together, we can make things happen. In working for a just and lasting peace, no one loses; no one is short-changed or aggrieved.”
Conceding that differences in culture, ethnicity, religion and politics persist among Filipinos (the theme of the celebration is “Ako, Ikaw, Tayo: Magkakaiba, Nagkakaisa sa Kapayapaan” (Me, You, Us: Different [but] United in Peace). Deles remarked that “our diversity as a nation is not a hindrance for us to work together hand-in-hand as we share the aspiration for just and lasting peace.”
The work, she added, lies not just in government and the armed groups they negotiate with. “Constantly, we should inculcate and train ourselves and those around us (in) the culture of respect, tolerance, and value for diversity.”
It’s also quite clear that the work of “building peace” does not stop once an agreement is signed and the rebels put down their arms and their fighters integrated into the armed forces. Peace work also involves rebuilding shattered communities and bringing the benefits of development to areas especially vulnerable to conflict, crime and violence. It also involves working with the larger public—even Filipinos living far from the battlegrounds—to nurture the seeds of harmony and understanding planted during a time of peace.
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Also a concern for peace workers is the plight of indigenous communities who are fighting, well “below the radar,” for their rights over their ancestral domain and against those who would exploit the natural resources that lie above and below ground.
Recently, ironically in time with International Indigenous Women’s Day, Lilak, an NGO advocating for the rights of indigenous women, called public attention to the case of Delma Manda, a Subanen woman who is in mourning after her husband, Timuay Lucenio Anda, and their 11-year-old son, Jordan, were ambushed by masked assailants while they were on their way to the school of Jordan. Jordan was killed on the spot and sustained numerous gunshot wounds. Timuay survived but was not unscathed. Timuay’s clan has been leading the Subanen community in Zamboanga del Sur in their fight for their land rights against logging and mining interests for decades.
Justice is also a necessity for peace to endure.
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