An insightful casual conversation
I was in London last week for a short meeting cum workshop with the Conciliation Resources, an international nongovernment organization. For two days, (June 25-26), I participated in the workshop to discuss the group’s small-scale comparative research on localized peacebuilding processes and the role of local elites and community organizations in these processes.
The two areas being studied are Garissa, Kenya, and Maguindanao, Philippines. I have been tasked to do the Maguindanao part of the research since last year, and I was in the UK capital to present the results of my study.
Conciliation Resources’ work has largely focused on reviewing peace initiatives all over the world, especially in conflict-affected areas and countries, in its annual publication, “Accord.” Its interest in reviewing peace processes in the Philippines started back in 1999, with an assessment of the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) peace talks that ended on Sept. 2, 1996, with the signing of the “Final” Peace Agreement. (Please visit the website at c-r.org).
As events turned out, there was nothing final in the “Final” Peace Agreement between the MNLF and the GRP. Violent skirmishes launched by the then rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front from 1997 onwards led to two decades more of peace negotiations with the latter.
The taxi ride from the London Gatwick airport took at least two hours, including being stuck for around 20 minutes in heavy traffic starting at the central part of the city down to a hotel in London’s legendary Kings Cross area. It was long enough to engage the taxi driver in a casual conversation. It turned out to be an insightful one — but maybe partly because the driver was a migrant from Brazil. Maybe it would have been different had the driver been a Brit with the stereotypical stiff upper lip. (Pardon my prejudicial slip showing.)
Cezio, the taxi driver, is one of millions of migrants from all over the world that make London highly diverse in terms of culture, ethnicities, languages spoken. Fifteen years ago, he moved to London to carve a much better life than the one he had in Brazil. He claims he has been lucky that despite steep living costs in London, he is able to have a more comfortable life than what he had in Brazil. He does not yet have his “pot of gold,” but he is able to provide for his family’s needs.
“You know, as long as people work hard enough, they are able to provide for their needs. There is always enough for what we need, but not for greed,” he noted.
He went on to cite examples of how corrupt politicians in his country have robbed him and his fellow Brazilians of a much better life, right up to the present. “Politicians are greedy, they have endless need for money,” he added.
I couldn’t agree more.
Many politicians in the Philippines are not only plain greedy, they have become inordinately rapacious in their use of public funds. Yet they get elected as senators and representatives, or, to be apt, “representa-thieves.” Family members of plunderers are still in power, despite previous court rulings on the billions of pesos they have stolen.
And we have a president who continues to extol the “virtues” of these plunderers.
Former presidents indicted for plunder were imprisoned in hotel-like quarters and enjoyed several privileges, as if they were not being punished at all. And they were released when Rodrigo Duterte became president.
“Your new president is truly something else,” Cezio quipped.
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