Readers will remember the fiasco of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain and the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity which the government announced in 2008 as a done deal. The Supreme Court ruled that the agreement was unconstitutional, and the agreement was shelved.
This time around, under a new president, the team of government peace negotiators headed by Marvic Leonen did a fine job, avoiding publicity but making sure the agreement would only be the start of many consultative processes.
Once again, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office should be congratulated for putting up comprehensive information on the framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Political Entity.
Everything’s there at gov.ph: the full text of the framework agreement as well as previous peace agreements, a map of the proposed territory, and brief but concise Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
Even more useful than the territorial map is a road map to peace, from which I learned that the signing of the framework agreement last Monday was only the first of 15 steps that will include passage of a Bangsamoro Basic Law Bill, ratification of that bill through a plesbiscite, establishment of a Bangsamoro Transition Authority, and elections for a regular legislative assembly.
Reading through the documents reminded me of a speech delivered last year by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles at a Quaker regional meeting. Deles spoke about the government’s peace talks in general, giving a bigger picture of the long and tumultuous years of negotiations with different groups, and what she called “lessons in progress” and what I’d say are lessons in the waging of peace.
Deles spoke on the need to avoid short cuts, on balancing transparency and confidentiality, on dealing with splinter groups, on coming up with mechanisms for sufficient consensus, on demobilization and disposition of firearms and, finally, on accelerating postconflict development.
So far, the framework agreement has been greeted quite positively by the public, including both Muslims and Christians in Mindanao. Not surprisingly, there has been some grumbling from the likes of Nur Misuari, but this is to be expected. I think that a way of measuring the potential success of the peace agreement is to see who complains the loudest. If it comes from people with vested sectarian power interests, then you can be sure the agreement is on the right track.
Although the proposed Bangsamoro is still a way off, the matter of postconflict development is the most urgent. In many ways, the framework agreement has already ushered in a postconflict era, and so development plans must be foremost. A failure of development in the new Bangsamoro will lead to more armed conflicts, not so much between Muslims and Christians as between the citizenry and the government.
At the signing of the framework agreement in Malacañang, President Aquino began his speech with these words:
“I ask the entire nation, and the entire world, to join me in imagining: A Mindanao finally free from strife, where people achieve their fullest potential. A child in Lamitan will be offered the same education as a child in Quezon City; the sick of Patikul will gain access to the same healthcare as those in Pasig. From constant displacement, there will be now a stable employment. Families who once cowered in fear of gunshots will now emerge from their homes to a bright new dawn of equity, justice, and peace.”
The gaps between the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the rest of the country are daunting. Some figures from the latest Philippine Human Development Report show how wide the gap is: In Tawi-tawi, life expectancy is a mere 53.4 years compared to 71.8 in Metro Manila. In Sulu, only 23 percent of the population aged above 18 are high school graduates, compared to 81 percent in Metro Manila.
It was important that the President mentioned equity in the same breath as justice and peace. The entire Philippines cries out from terrible inequities, so child slum-dwellers in Quezon City or Pasig may not necessarily be getting that much better care from the government than their counterparts in what will be Bangsamoro.
Deles talked last year about the need for an “enabling policy climate” in the conflict zones and specifically mentioned the need for governance reform in the ARMM to include greater accountability of local governments, “transformation of patronage politics” (which, she acknowledged, is a problem throughout the Philippines and not just in ARMM), and the dismantling of private armies.
In ARMM we’re not just talking about patronage politics but about absolute rule by warlords. I shudder to think of a Bangsamoro ruled by the likes of the bloodthirsty Ampatuan clan. At the same time, when we talk about private armies, we need as well to think of the armed Christian cults, many of which were used by the government to fight Muslims and communist insurgents.
The very concept of a Moro nation fires the imagination. The term Moro came from the Spaniards, together with all its connotations of “the different other”: they are pagan, we are Christian; they are barbaric, we are civilized. The differentiation was, of course, artificial because the Christians were often even more ruthless and bloodthirsty than the so-called pagans.
Let us see what happens with the term now that we have the proposed Bangsamoro. This Moro nation will include Muslims, Christians and lumad (indigenous communities). I am reminded of the Palestinians, whom many people, Christians especially, confuse with “Arab” and “Muslim.” The Palestinians actually include Muslims and Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs. Their most eloquent spokesperson, Hanan Ashrawi, is Christian, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature from the American University of Beirut and a PhD in medieval and comparative literature from the University of Virginia in the United States.
A final word: I did end up almost fixated with the map of the proposed Bangsamoro. There are the land-based areas of Lanao del Norte and several municipalities from the Cotabato provinces, and then to the east the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. If you lift out these provinces and come up with a separate map, you will find that in many ways they resemble the Philippine archipelago. A pessimist will say, “Ah, the Bangsamoro will be the Philippines’ spitting image in underdevelopment.” I prefer to be an optimist in thinking that as Moros wage peace, we might see in the Bangsamoro what Filipinos have always hoped we could be.