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There’s the Rub

First step

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The struggle hasn’t ended, everyone hastened to say, it has just begun. They had every reason to temper the euphoria with caution. What Malacañang and the MILF signed last Monday before the Malaysian ambassador and various other foreign dignitaries was not a peace agreement, it was a framework agreement. The parties have merely agreed to agree, or work out the terms of a peace agreement they can agree with. That is no easy task.

The road still stretches out ahead, and it is a long and winding one. At the very least you have people like Nur Misuari and breakaway MILF commander Ameril Umra Kato violently opposing the framework agreement, and the “violently” may not end up being limited to the figurative. The one says the agreement snubs the MNLF and the other says it is a capitulation. That is not to speak of the heads of the local governments in Mindanao, Muslim and Christian, who feel threatened by the idea of a Bangsamoro polity headed by the MILF.

At the very most, whatever the Transition Commission hammers out—the extent of power, revenues, and territory to be transferred to the Bangsamoro government—will still have to be submitted to Congress for approval and to a plebiscite in the affected areas for ratification. That is quite apart from the Supreme Court, which may have to rule on it in case someone, or some group, decides to question its constitutionality. Where autonomy ends and sovereignty begins is not something easily defined. The 15 members of the Commission, with the MILF holding the majority, have their work cut out for them.

But for all this, there’s also every reason to rejoice. The signing of the framework agreement in Malacañang last Monday is a landmark event. It is a watershed in Philippine history. Christmas, or its equivalent to Muslims, comes early to this country.

The glowing words uttered there, which brought tears to the eyes particularly of those who had borne the brunt of war, and more particularly of those who lost comrades along the way, were richly earned. What that signing did, itself the product of arduous effort since the dawning of a new administration, was to signify the breaking down of the barriers of distrust. That distrust, built deceit by deceit, betrayal by betrayal, death by death, is not just decades-old, it is centuries-old.

It dates back to Spanish times when the colonial government did not just speak of the sangre de indio, the blood of the Filipino, but of the sangre de Moro, the blood of the Moro, both derisive ways of depicting the indios and Moros as deceitful and untrustworthy, they’ll stab you in the back without a thought. The sangre de indio has pretty much disappeared, the “dugong Moro” has not, and remains active, quite apart from deeply imbedded, in the Pinoy psyche. Aided in no small way by commonplace terms like “moro-moro” to refer to something farcical or fake. To this day, the pageantry in many town fiestas features skits about the Christianization of the islands, depicting the Spaniards pushing back the heathen Moros to the sea. The roots of distrust are long and deep.

You see that in the media themselves, which made Erap’s war of attrition against the Moros a popular one. Every time the Moro rebels, or indeed their rogue companions, commit an atrocity, it reflects on the whole community, which doesn’t happen when soldiers, or Christian carpetbaggers, do the same thing. Trust the usual suspects to beat loudly the drums of war, or indeed to mouth the favorite line of the Americans who developed the Colt .45 to stop juramentados, “The only good Moro is a dead Moro.” Of course it doesn’t help that you have the Abu Sayyaf and even battier groups invoking jihad while turning kidnapping into the fastest growing cottage industry in Basilan.

The contribution of the signing of the framework agreement lies not just in the provisional laying down of arms that it has enabled, though that is huge enough in itself, but in attacking this plague of distrust. The one is just the symptom, the other the source of the disease.

The one line, I think, that stands out among the speeches and declarations last Monday came from MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim, who said, “I come in peace.”

What a simple line. What a brilliant line. In spite of, or probably because of, the fact that it also reminds us of the line aliens from another planet deliver in sci-fi comedies. Murad might as well have been an alien from another planet not just because, as he said so himself, that was the first time he set foot in Malacañang, home of the Spanish and American governors-general and the Philippine presidents, all of whom had been the enemy, but because that was the first time he set foot in a new world, a world that had suddenly become breathable, a world that had suddenly become habitable.

The signing was largely symbolic, but then so was P-Noy’s not using the wang-wang on his way to his inauguration largely symbolic. And look at the depth of abuse it has uprooted, look at the spirit of decency it has fostered. Again, what a difference a new president makes, what a difference trust makes. Those who say “You cannot eat trust” will have to eat humble pie. As this signing shows more than any other, you can eat trust, you can feast on trust. Trust is what makes for peace, which turns swords into ploughshares, which turns rivers of blood into harvests of grain, which turns the seven years of want into the seven years of plenty.

The signing of the framework agreement is a landmark event, it is a watershed in Philippine history. The journey of a thousand miles, as the wise have always said, begins with the first step. This is one journey of a thousand miles.

But this is one very big first step.


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