Easter Sunday represents renewed aspirations and hopeful beginnings—the light of a new day after the dark night (or, in more mundane terms, second, or even third, fourth chances). Yet beginnings often come only after definitive endings, as the length of Lent leads to Jesus’ death on Good Friday—the darkest conclusion—before the renewed promise of Easter Sunday.
In these parts, certain things await endings that will hopefully open a new chapter of peace and renewal, foremost among them the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. After 16 years, the negotiations appear to be at the endgame, or so it is hoped. It was in October when President Aquino announced the forging of the Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro, which “paves the way for a final and enduring peace in Mindanao.” In itself a huge breakthrough, it “brings all secessionist groups into the fold,” the President said. “No longer does the [MILF] aspire for a separate state. This means that hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations, and opening doorways of opportunity for other citizens.”
It was in 1997 that the peace talks commenced between the two sides, taking a long and winding road that led to the ill-conceived and ill-fated Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in July 2008. It seemed that the internecine conflict would never stop. Last month, Mr. Aquino visited Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao, the MILF’s symbolic stronghold, and called for a swift resolution to the peace talks, preferably before his term ends in 2016.
The crisis in Sabah threatened to derail the talks, although MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has been quick to say that “the issue of peace is more important than the issue of war.” Indeed, it will be a great shame if the continuing crisis in Sabah will obstruct the conclusion to the milestone document signed last year. Yet peace will have to wait a little bit longer, with the President ordering the postponement of the final negotiations to April to allow the government more time to review the annexes to the peace agreement. As though to highlight the momentousness of a definitive ending, the MILF has adopted a now-or-never stance: “If we cannot close this negotiation successfully during the administration of President Aquino, we do not know what lies ahead in 2016.”
There are other endings to look forward to. We seek the beginning of the end of voter ignorance, with the May polls once more testing the maturity of Filipinos to choose capable, honest and astute lawmakers and local leaders from among the welter of candidates. We seek an end to social injustice and criminal impunity, and impatiently await the resolution of the murders of Dexter Condez, the spokesperson of the beleaguered Ati in Boracay who are up against powerful interests in defending their ancestral land; of the environmentalist Gerry Ortega, who himself did battle against powerful operators; and of other activists, whether killed or disappeared, before and after them. In a statement that may well speak for the many similar cases languishing in police blotters and court dockets, Boracay parish priest Fr. Arnaldo Crisostomo said of the Condez killing: “We find the progress of the case slow. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to find justice.”
We seek the beginning of the end of impoverishment, hoping that the touted economic growth will transform into the much-discussed, much-sought “inclusive growth” benefiting the broad masses; of corruption in the government and of oppression of the powerless; of the despoliation of our environment… We seek many things, and require the patience of faith and the willingness to move forward.
“We are near the fruits of our labor,” the President said in Sultan Kudarat, in what had historically been enemy territory. “This is not the time for our hearts to grow faint.” So, too, must we all keep the courage for what comes next. After all, what does the bright breaking dawn of Easter morning symbolize but an end to fear and strife, as well as the beginning of true peace and justice for everyone?