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PEACETALK: Let the blood shed at Mamasapano clear, and not blind, our vision in the quest for truth and justice

(Keynote Address of Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles at the Bangsamoro Peace Forum In Pursuit of Peace, Truth, and Justice Forum, ISO, Ateneo de Manila University,  26 February 2015)

A month ago yesterday, all hell broke loose at Mamasapano in Maguindanao and, with it, the hopes we were nurturing for the timely passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would conclusively shift the MILF struggle from armed to electoral, from violent to peaceful. Or so it seems.

Are we now consigned to picking up the bits and pieces of a Humpty Dumpty of a BBL; or are we tasked to do something else? I think you and I are on the same page when you call this afternoon’s activity a forum on the Bangsamoro – in pursuit of peace, truth and justice. For the forcible deconstruction triggered by Mamasapano compels us to a reconstruction, a recovery, a rethinking that must go deep and far and wide if we are to do justice to truth and the pursuit of peace.

Amidst the din and frenzy, the death and despair, the grieving and recriminations, we must go deep into a space within ourselves—as individuals, as communities, and as a people, and face up to certain hard questions. We may not have all the answers, but, as the poet Rilke says, sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.

I propose three questions:
First, what happened at Mamasapano and how do we make sense of it?
Second, how has the fall-out from Mamasapano impacted on the GPH-MILF peace process and what are our stakes in it?
Third, given the saber-rattling and name callng, what is to be done?

As we tackle these questions, may I further propose two guideposts?
• Embrace history as our guide.
• Avoid dualism.

First – What happened at Mamasapano and how do we make sense of it?

By now we have a clearer picture of what happened during that longest dawn and day and night at Mamasapano. We have the cold statistic of 67 deaths, not just 44, of police commandos and Muslim combatants and civilians including an 8-year old child. Several bodies are probing the why and the wherefore—why things went terribly wrong, and who is or are called to accountarrow.

The details, and the accountabilitiesarrow, I leave to the investigating bodies. My concern here is the question: how do we make sense of it? And here we must take the long view, a deep breath, and reach far back into our common history to begin to make sense of the carnage at Mamasapano.

The Statement from Mindanao, issued 15 days ago by religious leaders led by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato and joined by Jesuit presidents of Ateneo univesities in Mindanao, rightly says that no one has a monopoly on guilt, or on righteousness. The statement reminds us that for 300 years, a proud Moro people stood up to Spain, the United States, and a succession of Philippine governments, colonial and republican, to defend their sovereignty and claim their homeland. They paid the price in blood – the massacres of Bud Dajo, Bud Bagsak, and Jabidah. In the end they, and the lumads, the indigenous peoples, are pushed to the margins by the guns of Pax Americana, the waves of migration from the north and central islands, and the shrewdness of a Torrens title.

The past 45 years of intermittent warfare in Mindanao have claimed the lives of at least 150,000 combatants and civilians. This has led to the “mutual insight” that guns, violence and wars only fuel the need for more guns, violence and wars in a macabre death dance with no end in sight but the end. It has been said that peace is the only way to peace. Proof of this is that, in the past three years, the ceasefire between the government and the MILF has held without a single skirmish – and this is by the accountingarrow not of OPAPP and the negotiating panel but of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The bloodbath at Mamasapano does not debunk the imperative of peace. On the contrary, Mamasapano tells us – and may I paraphrase the poet E.E. Cummings here – that, of peace, we must be more careful than of anything else. It is a beacon but it is also a fragile flower. It lives in the hearts of men and women but, stunted, it can also turn toxic.

We must make sense of Mamasapano by learning the lessons of history; and by keeping our ears close to the ground. War’s alarms ring in the halls of Congress and in social media but not in the blood-drenched fields of Maguindanao where people, and children most of all, pay the price of the conflict.

Second – How has the fall-out from Mamasapano impacted on the GPH-MILF peace process and what are our stakes in it?
It has been said that the BBL is as much a casualty of Mamasapano as the fallen 67. True, two legislators have withdrawn sponsorship of the BBL bill. True, the MILF is being faulted for, demonized even, for breaking the peace. And our peace negotiators, myself included, have been criticized for speaking in behalf of MILF.

More specifically, some lawmakers have called for the resignation of GPH Panel Chair Miriam Ferrer, GPH-CCCH Chair Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, and myself. These legislators have charged us with being spokespersons, even lawyering for, MILF. They have called the BBL a “sell-out” for being one-sided and favoring MILF.

But what is the truth? The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro or CAB, precursor to the BBL, was painstakingly crafted over three years of hard negotiations with the MILF, and the fact that, more than once, negotiations nearly broke down is a testament to the integrity of the process. The four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro or FAB, signed by the parties in September, 2012, took 16 months to complete, 13 months beyond the timetable projected in the FAB, precisely because negotiating positions were so difficult to bridge.

On the side of government, the most contentious issues were first threshed out with the concerned national agencies in discussions which sometimes seemed as difficult as the negotiations with the MILF. After each negotiation round in Kuala Lumpur, the GPH panel and myself, briefed the designated peace observers from the House of Representatives, as well as key members of the Senate peace committee, on the progress of the talks. In the last rounds of talks in KL, our peace observers from Congress even accompanied the GPH Panel to Kuala Lumpur so that they could personally witness the rigor and difficulty of the peace negotiations. No one told us then that we were betraying the interests of the republic.

The CAB, and later the BBL, has been subject to consultations and forums particularly in but not limited to Mindanao. The private sector and big business, academe, religious leaders and officials both Christian and Muslim, civil society organizations have weighed in on the peace process and the agreements they have produced. All signed documents were immediately posted online, widely covered by media, with infographics reprinted in major broadsheets. But the truth is also that few of those who are talking loudly today took much interest in all these then.

They say that peace is not an easy path, sometimes it’s like walking a tightrope. But there is no alternative to peace. War cannot end war. Religious officials, civil society leaders, business persons, academicians have spoken out who live and work in Mindanao. They know how destructive war is, and how fragile peace is. That is why, to a person, they have issued calls for peace very early on when thick haze still hung over Mamasapano. They called for a resumption of congressional hearings on the BBL.

Some legislators and politicians wish to demonize the MILF. But I can say, from working with the MILF in the past three years, that they have earned the trust and respect of GPH peace negotiators with a ceasefire that has held firm since the Al Barka incident in October, 2011. The trust of the AFP has been won with successful joint operations against lawless elements and to rescue kidnap victims, and some occasional PNP officials who wandered into hostile territory, in central Mindanao. And most of all, they have won the trust and respect of the whole-of-government for choosing time and again to stay on the table through the stickiest negotiations, shifting from winner-take-all talking points to joint and mutual problem-solving to move the multiple tracks of the peace process forward – not just in pursuing the political settlement in the autonomous Bangsamoro , but also in the delivery of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro peace dividends, the crafting and adoption of the Bangsamoro Development Plan, and the groundwork for the phased and gradual decommissioning of MILF combatants in the context of the comprehensive Normalization Annex.

To say so is not lawyering for them but speaking the truth in love, to borrow a line from scripture.

I find it oddly strange that it is legislators and politicians who have not witnessed, or felt, firsthand the scourge and ravages of war in Mindanao who come charging at our peace structures with a wrecking ball. What is it like to live your life forever on the run? What is it like to lose your home, and your wits, because bombs come raining from the sky? What is it like to force your adolescent daughter to work abroad because there is no decent work for bakwits or semi-permanent refugees? What is it like to force your underage daughter to marry because there is no security of home for her? What is it like to know that the little boy that you suckled at your breast will not grow up to learn reading and arithmetic and how to make a living from his talents and acquired skills? What he will learn best is how to point the gun and pull the trigger and, at what is supposed to be the prime of his life, he will wake up on many mornings with the knowledge that this is a day when he may kill or be killed.

This is what war has meant in Mindanao – not for one, or two, or three, but for thousands, for tens of thousands, for hundreds of thousands, and during the episodes of all-out war, for half a million people, even a million, of its people: Muslim, Christian, lumad.
That is why Mindanao people – children and bishops and ulamas and businessmen and women and teachers and NGO leaders – that is why their reaction to congressional freezing of BBL hearings is visceral, pained. Because they know what the costs are, they know that war is infinitely costlier than peace.

If speaking this truth labels me as lawyering for MILF, I do not mind. Better that than to shut up because it is not popular, or sexy, to speak up at this time in defense of peace. How oddly strange to be so viciously assailed for speaking up for peace.

People in Mindanao are also pained by the resurgence of our old biases and dualistic thinking of us versus them, expressed in the view that the only good Moro is a dead Moro, or that Muslims can never be trusted. We must unlearn this dualism so we can move beyond our superficial analyses to a more discerning view of the peace process and our stakes in it.

Mamapasano has, indeed, set back the peace process but let us use this lull to clearly spell out the stakes, not only for Mindanaoans, but also for people from the north (Luzon) and the central islands (Visayas). We cannot prosper as a nation with a house divided. We cannot live the promise of life abundant while pockets of poverty and violence and squalor remain in Mindanao.

Let us issue primers on peace, let us hold fora such as this, let us write letters to the editor, let us lobby our congresspersons, let us reach out over and over again to Filipinos who are different from and unfamiliar to us. Let us keep the flame of peace burning, to keep BBL at the top of the agenda, and to honor our fallen 67.

And, finally – what is to be done?

There is a well-loved Protestant hymn that goes: “Once to every man/woman and nation, comes the moment to decide …” In the end this is a moment of truth for every Filipino: Christian, Bangsamoro, or lumad. The President, P.Noy, has put it this way: Am I for peace? Or am I for war?

Shall we let our fears, insecurities, and falsehoods, rule us? Can we afford to sit on the fence, let the wind blow where it will, and may the best or strongest side win?

Let us not sell ourselves short. Not for nothing did we fight Spain, again and again, for three and a half centuries – to strike out at injustice, for the call to freedom. Not for nothing did we fight the Americans – at the cost of becoming a howling wilderness – to defend our sovereignty and freedom. Not for nothing did we fight against the darkness of totalitarian rule, which triumph inspired the world with our people power revolution 29 years ago yesterday – to regain our freedom and once again light our way to a future of justice, democracy, and peace.

I beg you, the young people here: as young Filipinos to whom the future rightly and irrevocably belongs, please do not sell yourselves short. Insist on your say to how the future will take shape. Insist that decisions that will determine your future not be made on the basis of emotions – or more accurately, emotionalism – not on the basis of allegations and surely not on the basis of prejudices and petrified perspectives that belong to the past and will not serve in your quest to manage and overcome the challenges of the future. Please demand that, when the BBL is put to a vote in Congress, it will be the future of the children – Christian, Muslim, and lumad; equally for the child in Mamasapano as the child in Manila – that will take center stage and not the 2016 electoral prospects of politicians.

Today we are called to stand beside, not against, our Muslim brothers and sisters in their quest for justice and selfhood within a house united, not divided. The most vociferous voices call for a stop to the BBL hearings, call for a revamp of the peace infrastructure in midstream. Perhaps the most charitable thing to say is that they do not know whereof they speak.

Let the blood shed at Mamasapano clear, and not blind, our vision in the quest for truth and justice. Let the sturm und drang of these days be as a refiner’s fire to purify words of their dross.

And may the peacemakers be blessed.

Good afternoon.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MIndaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her piece on peace in Mindanao. Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, delivered this keynote address at  the Bangsamoro Peace Forum In Pursuit of Peace, Truth, and Justice Forum, ISO, Ateneo de Manila University, 26 February 2015)

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