At Large

Untold tales and visions

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“We will have stories to tell about the last six days. Years from now, when we look back let us hope that we will do so with more pride. Pride, because we would have achieved what we mutually have dreamed of this day and the past few days,” declared lawyer Marvic Leonen, chair of the government panel in the peace talks with the MILF, in his closing statement at the end of the latest round of talks in Kuala Lumpur.

Indeed, there should be many “untold tales” from the years of the negotiations for peace in Mindanao, including details of the “sticking points” that nearly derailed the talks, and the many stories yet to emerge as the main points of the “framework agreement” are threshed out and actualized.

But there are many more stories that the people of Mindanao, what activists have sloganized into the term “tri-peoples of Mindanao” (Muslims, Christians and Lumad or indigenous peoples), could tell. These range from stories of atrocities and oppression since even before World War II, to heroic accounts of struggle against colonizers and armed forces; and even of how Christian settlers carved out settlements, farms and plantations in jungles and mountainsides.

There are as many storytellers as there are stories. And the same story may even be told from several viewpoints, painting one or the other party as the “villain” or “hero” of the piece. But the “story” of Mindanao continues, including the journey to peace that only now is beginning. Let’s hope old plots and stock characters are jettisoned in favor of new ways of looking at the past, present and future; and new depictions of all who have a stake in the process, even those deemed “enemies,” “infidels,” “interlopers” or “exploiters.”

* * *

What needs emphasizing at this point is that the “framework agreement” is, as P-Noy himself put it in a press briefing Sunday, a “road map” toward the final peace agreement, which is expected to be signed before the President steps down in 2016.

Leonen explained that the new “autonomous political entity,” to be known as “Bangsamoro” (meaning the “Moro People” if I’m not mistaken) and to take the place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), will be created from the existing ARMM plus a few identified areas. The creation of the new entity “will be created through an organic act drafted by the transition commission (composed of both government and MILF representatives), enacted by Congress, and effective upon ratification in a plebiscite of all people who are affected by it.”

Just reading these words, I could imagine the many roadblocks facing “Bangsamoro.” First, the commission must come to an agreement and sign off on the appropriate language and concepts governing “autonomy” and “power-sharing,” among other issues. Second, the measure must pass through Congress, and we all know how legislators may choose this occasion to bluster their way to prominence and reelection. Some may not be above bringing up the “Moro” bogey just to get the necessary press.

And last, the measure will have to be approved in a plebiscite, and as in any electoral exercise, issues could be muddled, scares may be raised, accusations of all sorts of dark motives could be peddled to voters, and people scared off from the polls by groups unwilling to let “peace” reign in Mindanao.

* * *

Indeed, “Bangsamoro” will have to face down many opponents on the road to existence, and it’s not just the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Umra Kato, or the Abu Sayyaf or even elements of Jemaah Islamiya.

There will be economic and business interests who fear a more stringent and principled oversight over the exploitation of natural resources. There are political dynasties who fear for their future under “Islamic” governance. Even elements in the military and police (some of them top officers) uneasy with sharing armed authority with their former enemies, and losing a lucrative sideline selling arms and ammunition.

But just as the “framework agreement” faces many skeptics or friends who fear for the worse, there are also many cheerleaders out there. For one, the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, composed of young progressive Filipino Muslims, has said in a statement that “the challenge now is in the transition to the new political entity, the Bangsamoro. That it will be well managed, that the structures to be set up start on the right footing and that funds for development are professionally used, with transparency and accountability.”

Expressing hope that the new entity “should establish the firm foundation for peace and development,” the PCID said it is “committed to contribute to the shaping of a Bangsamoro entity that is fully functioning, accountable, transparent and inclusive.”

It is the voice of such groups as the PCID, deeply committed to the future and development of Mindanao, that will prove valuable in forging the new “Bangsamoro.”

* * *

Even as he expressed hopes for the peaceful and successful emergence of the “Bangsamoro” at the end of the transition process, Leonen acknowledged the good will of all the parties—whether as negotiators or observers—involved in the peace talks.

Leonen rightfully acknowledged the MILF panel: Chair Mohagher Iqbal, Datu Mike Mastura, Maulana Alonto, Al Kamlian, Datu Kinoc (and their two women “consultants”), for their effort and hard work in forging the agreement. But also crucial was the role played by host Malaysia, especially Prime Minister Najib Razak, and observers composing the International Contact Group made up of the governments of Japan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom, and international NGOs Centre for International Dialogue, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah, and The Asia Foundation.

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