Mary Ann Arnada, a lawyer and Mindanao-based peace advocate, had some choice words for the media at a recent “Multi Stakeholders Forum” on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Why, she wanted to know, was there so much negativity in the media regarding not just the Framework Agreement and the recently-concluded talks on the annex on wealth-sharing, but generally about the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the peace process, and Muslims in general?
“Why is there so much coverage given to Abu Sayyaf attacks and kidnappings, but no story about a peace worker?” she asked.
Media people present at the forum, including this columnist, could have told her about the “nature of the beast,” and the seeming penchant for the violent and sensational. But I for one kept my counsel because, in fact, there are disturbing developments in the way the peace talks and their results have been presented in the media.
We all realized that there was still a long road to hoe before real and sustainable peace in Mindanao could be achieved, despite the milestones that have been achieved along the way.
There is for one the need to “sell” the peace agreement, which seems well on the way to completion, not just to Congress which will have to ratify the document, but more importantly to the Filipino public. True, the plebiscite to follow the ratification by Congress will be held in what are considered the Bangsamoro areas. But the peace pact will have but minimal impact, and doubtful longevity, if it doesn’t win the support of the majority of the population, who are not just Christian but even “anti-Muslim.”
I’m talking of course of a low boil, maybe even subconscious bias, against Filipino Muslims held by the Christian majority, the result of centuries of black propaganda and inculturation. Seldom does this negativity manifest itself, but it can make itself felt in the most unexpected ways.
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Take a look at the banners of many newspapers in the past week, including the headlines of this paper. The impression I get reading the headlines is that the government negotiators gave “too much away,” the “jewel in the crown,” as the Inquirer’s headline said, quoting chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer, in the conduct of the talks.
Maybe it all depends from which viewpoint one is assessing the results of the annex on “wealth sharing” that was recently concluded. True, as news reports said, under the agreement, the Bangsamoro (the entity representing the MILF and replacing the government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) will receive 75 percent of the revenue from natural resources.
By all appearances, it would seem the national government is on the losing end (75 percent is a larger allotment than any other local government receives). But when viewed against the historic grievances of the Moro people, the wealth-sharing arrangement “will realize meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro in the future,” said Ferrer.
“Behind the haggling for more shares is the intent [for the Bangsamoro] to be less and less dependent on the national government,” Ferrer added. The intention, she said, “is not to get the ‘lion’s share’ for its own sake but to be able to stand tall as a progressive and peaceful region, an equal partner of the central government in an equally peaceful and progressive country.”
The proposed wealth-sharing agreement, she said, does not entail a “one-way partnership.” The government, she noted, is not “giving everything to the Bangsamoro.” Rather, “the Bangsamoro is [also] sharing and contributing to the development of the whole country.”
“That indeed is the true meaning of partnership—partnership that is not based on dependency and patronage, but on the strength and capacities introduced by both for the benefit of the whole.”
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It was left to MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal to sound out some concerns, from their point of view, at the start of the talks last July 8. “There are many spoilers who are waiting in ambush,” he warned. As a negotiator for over a decade, said Iqbal, “I have learned a lot of hard lessons. My experience tells me that there is no easy part of any real life negotiation…But this is no reason to cause the failure of these talks. Sincere and committed partners in a peace process will always find a creative formula to get through any differences. If they don’t find one, this means one of the parties or both of them [have] change[d] policy from solving the conflict to not solving it.”
What the talks are addressing, added Iqbal, “is the Moro Problem or Question, not the Philippine problem. Remember that a ‘historic injustice’ has been committed against the Bangsamoro, which must be corrected once and for all in order to put to rest future legitimate struggles against the Manila government. Therefore, any solution requires a major shakeup of the status quo.”
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So, while presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles assures that the proposed comprehensive agreement is “a very good deal,” adding that it is “viable, fair and is something that shares the aspiration of all,” the MILF apparently believes some “shaking up” is not just inevitable but necessary.
“There is no negotiation where one side gets 100 percent,” Deles has said. But she noted that apparently, “the political leadership of the MILF … decided [it was] the overall goal of everyone.”
We will see how far and how much the “shaking up” foreseen by the MILF toward the fruition of the Bangsamoro will go. In the meantime, there is the task of “selling” the agreement to the public, so perhaps a suspension of the hostilities in our minds and hearts is called for.