What it takes to promote peace
Mamasapano may have “sunk” President Aquino’s approval and satisfaction ratings (according to the Social Weather Stations’ latest survey), but will the peace process likewise get caught in the eddies swirling about the debacle?
Analysts say the negative public reactions to P-Noy’s handling of the post-Mamasapano scenario, particularly his perceived lack of empathy with the survivors of the 44 Special Action Force members killed in the police action, and his contradictory statements on his exact role in the outcome of the raid, could very well spell doom to the chances of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law even making it out of Congress.
The BBL is the framework around which the organization and legality of the proposed Bangsamoro entity, which shall have authority over an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, shall be based. If it fails to pass muster in the House of Representatives and the Senate, it may very well cause the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, signed a year ago, to collapse.
This would, as leaders on both sides of the peace talks have warned, lead to the outbreak of renewed violence. Or the beginnings of a “very bloody war,” as government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer has put it. Certainly, it would demolish the credibility of the present crop of leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who gambled on a ceasefire with government troops and renounced their previous calls for a separate Islamic state to engage in peace negotiations with the Aquino administration. Should the BBL not gain enough votes in Congress, it could very well send signals to other Moro leaders—not just disgruntled factions of the MILF but also those of other insurgent and Islamist groups—that the time for talking peace is over, and it’s time to resolve their demands through arms.
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Maybe this is what spurred a group that call themselves the “Friends of Peace” to gather recently and seek ways by which peace advocates, educators and civic and religious leaders, mostly based in Mindanao, can help move the stalled peace process along.
In his reflections after the gathering, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo wrote that in the light of the “mutual distrust” arising from the bloodshed that attended the operation in Mamasapano, there needs to be a “change of mind and heart” not just among those working for and promoting peace, but also, more importantly, among the general populace.
Of immediate concern for Cardinal Quevedo was the need to “promote reconciliation and reduce biases and prejudices,” with the possibility broached of gathering “widows and children from the MILF, SAF and civilians to share their experiences of grief for lost loved ones.” After all, there is no monopoly of righteous anger or grievance over the events at Mamasapano, even if some parties would prefer pitting the grieving families and communities against one another.
As for “saving” the BBL from falling victim to the current atmosphere of blame and naysaying, Cardinal Quevedo noted the need for a more aggressive “information tour” to address the questions raised on the “objectionable” provisions of the BBL, with “media people, universities, business and religious groups as primary targets.
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Other suggestions that came up during the Friends of Peace gathering were: to invite media people and legislators to visit conflict areas in Mindanao and be exposed to the situation of ordinary people as well as of “bakwit” (the local term for “evacuees”); invite legal and constitutional experts to provide a rewording of questionable provisions in the BBL so that such provisions would be more clearly attuned to the letter and spirit of the Constitution; and suggest improvements in the proposed BBL—e.g., on transitional justice, on time-free referendum by 10 percent of the people, on contiguity (of areas to belong to the Bangsamoro), on “exclusive” power over education, among others.
Beyond the immediate period leading up to the passage and future plebiscite on the BBL, the gathering also looked at ways by which the persistent divides between Muslim and Christian (and lumad) peoples could be addressed.
For one, there needs to be “embedded into the curriculum” an understanding of the causes of conflict and the search for peace. Families also need, said the group, to “create a culture of respect for others, a culture of loving dialogue in the home, reflected in more intra-faith and inter-faith dialogue.”
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It is not enough to simply talk or teach the culture of peace. The Friends of Peace said exposure programs for men and women, youth and children “towards a dialogue of life” would need to be conducted, while training for leadership in this field would also need to be prepared.
“With other members of civil society,” the gathering said, “[the group could] help p rovide and promote a citizens’ agenda for social justice and human development, especially for the Bangsamoro who represent a worst case scenario.”
In line with this, the government as well as Philippine society at large would need to “address fundamental sources of social conflict and disharmony,” especially given “huge economic and educational disparities, lack of adequate employment opportunities, resulting in massive exodus of Filipino workers, massive poverty and human trafficking, and entrenched political imbalances.”
The final realization, perhaps, is that the work of building peace and putting an end to violence and enmity is work that involves not just sitting down in dialogue and negotiation, but also in getting “down and dirty,” working in communities to revise and right injustices and inequality that perpetuate and in fact lead to “un-peace.”
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