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PEACETALK: We are fighting not just to survive, but for a chance to truly live

mindaviews peacetalk

18 March 2023 (MindaNews) – Today marks the 55th Founding Anniversary of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Since 1968, the Bangsamoro peace process has seen some successes, a few setbacks, and a lot of challenges. 

I would like to share my recent experience being one of the delegates of the Bangsamoro-Northern Ireland Knowledge Exchange trip organized by Conciliation Resources, the United Kingdom (UK) Government, and Social Change Initiative. The group was composed of ten individuals who represented different sectors of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). With us were five Members of the Parliament of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), two of whom were Deputy Speakers, and the Majority Floor Leader. We had representatives from both the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Ulama, non-Muslim indigenous people, youth, and civil society organizations. Almost half of the delegation were women.

Our itinerary included sessions with political experts of Kashmir and Somalia. We also met former Irish Republican Army (IRA) combatants, a veteran of the British Army who fought during the time before the peace agreement was signed, diplomats, politicians, officials of Sinn Fein such as the Mayor of Belfast, and representatives from the government of the UK. 

Having spent ten days attending round-table discussions and listening to human case studies, these are some of the main takeaways we learned:

1. The Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which turns 25 years on April 10 this year, brought about much-needed peace and development and ended the hostilities between the IRA and the UK Government. Although some provisions in the Agreement are yet to be implemented, having put arms beyond use while simultaneously investing in intensive infrastructure and socio-economic development in Northern Ireland, convinced even the staunchest critics to say that the GFA was the right move then. In the Bangsamoro context, we have the Final Peace Agreement of the MNLF and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro of the MILF. We are now in the process of harmonizing these signed agreements through the unification and inclusion efforts being made in the BTA of the BARMM. For the first time during the second round of appointments to BTA2 , MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari nominated seven representatives and called for unity and solidarity of the two Moro fronts. The golden age of infrastructure and development is still to come, but all eyes are on BARMM and the promise it holds. 

2. One of the most unforgettable sessions was with an expert on the political situation in Kashmir. In August 2019, the Government of India revoked the special autonomy status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 of the Constitution and rendered it essentially inoperative. The expert shared an eye-opener to all of us: that when most of the Kashmiri leaders from different groups, who either had a falling out with each other or treaded on their own path independently of other groups, were caught and imprisoned by the Indian government, they were placed in one big cell. This forced them to talk to each other and they realized, albeit too late, that perhaps if they started talking much earlier, they could have prevented the loss of their autonomy. It underscored the importance of unity and being able to see past differences to work together for the common good. 

3. Sincerity matters not just between revolutionary groups and the government, but mostly from within the group itself. Former combatants shared how non-government or civil society organizations played a vital role in filling the gaps of the high-level peace process and took care of the needs of the transitioning combatants to mainstream society. It is imperative that conscious effort is made to not exclude anyone since the outcome that peace agreements aim to achieve is for no one to be left behind. Careful consideration must be given especially to the most vulnerable and the ones who sacrificed much because they believed in the cause of freedom and self-determination. Interventions such as sustainable livelihood programs, social enterprises, and increased political participation of reformed combatants paved the way to a dignified life for most of them in Northern Ireland. 

4. Both the UK and the Republic of Ireland are closely monitoring the situation in Northern Ireland. Even the European Union, the United States of America, and other nations are heavily invested through a trust fund they contribute to in good faith to help the people of Northern Ireland towards the normalization process. Geopolitics in this day and age clearly shows how small the world has become due to technology and modern advancements. We have all become neighbors despite the physical distance. What happens in Ukraine affects us here in the Philippines, and vice versa. The Bangsamoro people are equally world-class given the same opportunities and education. The time has come where the international community knows the potentials BARMM holds not just for the Philippines, but the world over. 

5. Finally, we need to use our voice, our power, our influence to propel the Bangsamoro people to greater heights and even greater destiny. Despite the potential threats ahead, we remain vigilant to protect the peace we have worked so hard to gain over the past 55 years. Through ups and downs, ebbs and flows that characterize the peace process, we must never give up. The method might have changed; from bullets to ballots, from the deafening exchange of fire to the lively debates in the Parliament, we are all still fighting; for justice, to be equal, to be free from discrimination, for what is right. We are fighting not just to survive, but for a chance to truly live. 

We are all peace-builders. With every brick we lay on the strong foundation we are trying to secure for the next generation, we must remember that the protracted war has transformed from winning on the battlefield to winning the hearts and minds of our people. And this might be the hardest battle yet.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Nur-Ainee Tan Lim is the head of the secretariat of the GPH-MNLF Peace Coordinating Committee. She is currently the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Social Services and Development in the BARMM. Her father is MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari)

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