The search for peace | Inquirer Opinion
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The search for peace

As you read this, I will be in Penang, Malaysia, at the Shangri-La Golden Sands Resort which has an adjacent beach and a pool surrounded by tall coconut trees, about the only thing I remember about it from a previous visit many years ago.

It sounds like an idyllic setting for sun-bathing and relaxation, but this is no junket, mind you. I am a participant in the fifth edition of the Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao Seminar, what its organizers have dubbed “COP5.”

The seminar began in 2006 as a mechanism to get all stakeholders together to discuss issues surrounding challenges to peace in the Southeast Asian region, namely Aceh (in Indonesia), Southern Thailand (where a Muslim movement is drawing official concern and repression), and Mindanao. But in recent years, the seminar has focused on Mindanao alone, and this year is no exception.


In the invitation letter, it was explained that the seminar focuses on Mindanao “to help strengthen the ongoing peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The COP5 goal is to provide a platform for stakeholders from Mindanao and Manila where they can all help move the peace process forward. It is also aimed to build on the profound commitments to peace as pronounced at the Aquino-Murad meeting in Tokyo last August. Through this meeting, we hope that we can contribute in laying the foundation of peace in Mindanao through a process of constant dialogue and peace education.”


The seminar draws more than 70 participants, resource speakers and observers, from members of the Philippine and MILF panels, governors of the ARMM member-provinces (we met them at the stopover in Singapore), representatives of Bangsa Moro civil society groups as well as of peace groups from Mindanao and Manila, and journalists.

Organizers of COP5 are Research and Education for Peace, Universiti Sains Malaysia

(REPUSM), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and Southeast Asian Conflict Studies Network (SEACSN).

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A fortunate (or maybe unfortunate?) piece of timing is that the seminar is being held just a few days after the 24th round of exploratory talks between the government and the MILF came to an end. A joint statement said the parties had “constructive discussions on substantive issues,” and that they had “tentatively identified areas of common ground.” The next round of exploratory talks will be held next month.

In a news report, however, government panel chair Marvic Leonen was quoted as saying that he felt the progress of the talks was “slow” and urged the MILF to “fast-track” the negotiations, the sooner to arrive at a political settlement.


Perhaps the proceedings of the COP5, which gathers the largest number of participants, from the most diverse constituencies, could contribute substantively to the next round of talks.

Last September, for instance, a number of peace networks organized a summit to dialogue with the government and MILF peace panel representatives on possibly “bridging” their respective proposals. In a report, the summit participants “strongly encouraged the GPH and MILF to continue talking and make use of the two different peace agreement proposals instead of treating them as opposing drafts.”

Aside from urging both panels to continue to search for “commonalities,” the summit participants also called on the government to “start engaging the Senate, Congress and the Judiciary/Supreme Court through an Advisory Team” to transform the peace process into a “whole government effort.” They also urged the government to “institutionalize a regular feedback mechanism with the public and branches of national and local government units as a means of being updated with the ongoing peace process.” These initiatives, said the organizers of COP5, should be deepened and supported during the seminar.

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A notable development in the GPH-MILF negotiations is the appointment of Moro women to both panels.

The newest member of the government panel is Yasmin Busran-Lao, a Maranao and consultant with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and member of the GPH secretariat. A news release from Opapp says Busran-Lao “is expected to aggressively assist the government in building our position in the peace talks.”

Busran-Lao ran for senator under the Liberal Party banner in the 2010 elections, and is a prominent figure in Moro civil society and academia. She joins UP professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer as the second woman on the GPH panel.

The MILF previously named human rights lawyer Raissa Jajurie, who hails from Sulu, as the second woman consultant with the peace panel. Jajurie apparently came to the attention of the MILF officialdom because of her legal work on behalf of individuals arrested on suspicion of being terrorists or being linked to bombings.

Jajurie and Busran-Lao join other women who had taken part in previous peace negotiations, but their identities as Moro women should add greater depth to the discussions and highlight the role of women in the peace process.

They also promise to challenge gender-based constraints in traditional culture. Busran-Lao, for one, has been quite vocal in her advocacy of efforts of women living under Muslim law to reinterpret the Koran “through women’s eyes” and lend a more gender-sensitive interpretation of the Koranic texts.

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As the experience of Egyptian women shows, “winning” the revolution doesn’t necessarily translate into emancipation or even the end to repressive and violent social sanctions. The voices and experiences of Moro women must inform the peace negotiations, for in their case, the personal is certainly the political.

TAGS: featured columns, Mindanao, opinion, peace process

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