While the majority of our weary population welcomed the agreement on the ancestral domain issue, some shrill voices were quick to dimiss it, practically seething that they were not consulted in the process. They also promised that they will never allow their communities to be part of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity tasked to govern the disputed territories once the agreement is implemented. They vowed to take their case to the Supreme Court to stop the impending pact and arm their Christian constituency to “defend” themselves from a feared onslaught of Moro hordes that will descend upon them once the BJE is activated. They have made good their first threat and woe to us all if the second materializes.
The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride for the people of Mindanao. And for Filipinos who have been hankering for peace for more than half a century.
First, a breakthrough in the peace talks happened between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after both sides finally agreed to ink the last contentious strand on ancestral domain that bogged the negotiations for a pretty long while.
While the majority of our weary population welcomed this development, some shrill voices were quick to dimiss the agreement, practically seething that they were not consulted in the process. They also promised that they will never allow their communities to be part of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) tasked to govern the disputed territories once the agreement is implemented. They vowed to take their case to the Supreme Court to stop the impending pact and arm their Christian constituency to “defend” themselves from a feared onslaught of Moro hordes that will descend upon them once the BJE is activated. They have made good their first threat and woe to us all if the second materializes.
Then as if like a blaring trumpet segueing into a scripted symphony, anonymous Moro groups were reported to have threatened Christian residents to move out of their enclaves in Basilan and elsewhere or risk being harmed or assimilated forcibly into a future “Islamic state”. Whether this is the handiwork of fanatics or spoilers out to sabotage this penultimate lap of this tedious negotiations, your guess is as good as ours. But perhaps this was also the scenario that some conductor wanted to orchestrate to bolster their avowed fears.
It did not help that fresh skirmishes in Central Mindanao started by some MILF elements flared up, proving that a tenous peace is indeed still upon us. To their credit, the MILF leadership immediately admitted their men initiated the firefights and claimed to sanction those responsible for these ceasefire infractions. Impatient commanders were to blame, the Moro front claimed, because of the slow pace of the peace talks. We do not know what sanctions were meted out to the errant mujahedeens.
Then just as the two peace panels came together in Kuala Lumpur last Friday to iron out kinks in preparation for the formal signing of the ancestral domain pillar, the talks suddenly collapsed. The government nonchalantly said that this was a normal “bump” along the way to lasting peace but the MILF put the blame squarely on the government saying Manila was trying to undo the hitherto breakthrough agreement. We were not told what was being “undone”, but again your guess is as good as ours.
The spoilers and those who have profited from unpeace must have been overjoyed at the time of this reverse “breakthrough”. Or did they?
Just one day after its collapse, the talks were said to have resumed anew and the ancestral domain agreement was finally initialed.
We dont know how this saga will finally play out. We don’t know whose satisfaction will be short-lived: the saboteurs or the people’s.
What we know is that hundreds of civilians have again been displaced due to the recent firefights. Houses have been burned, evacuees are again on the run. The people are numb, confused, quietly angry. The MILF is again being blamed for the latest atrocities, this time they are rejecting the charge. Thank God/Allah for the indefatigable official ceasefire monitoring bodies who along with the International Monitoring Team and grassroots Bantay Ceasefire teams have helped defuse the renewed tensions.
What we know is that there are talks of postponing the ARMM elections in response to the request of the Moro fronts. The President has endorsed the call, but Congress which she controls- at least the “Lower” half of it- promised to heed her. But in order to also show that they are not pliant and have a mind of their own kuno, they can easily say the request was made too late or something. The President can always say to the Fronts that she did her best. “Win-win”. Or so it appears.
Of course she does not have to tell us that the Senate is another story that she would barely get past.
What we also know is that there are fears the process to postpone is a pretext to actually tinker with the constitution by proposing a federal system of government citing such as the only enabling mechanism for the agreement to come to fruition. What other motivation behind this is another guess.
Comes now the President delivering her “swan song” in Congress where she barely mentioned Mindanao in her hour-long State of the Nation Address. Pundits were earlier betting that she was going to brag about the initial breakthrough in the talks with the MILF. Alas, when the talks briefly collapsed on the eve of her speech, her speechwriters may have deleted entire pages of it. She had to dispatch her Peace (new) and National Security (old) Advisers to Kuala Lumpur to help salvage the deal, and be able to say something.
They may have achieved their mission, but the cavalier fashion that government had been treating these talks is worth pondering. Is this government really serious about settling the conflict? Although GMA reiterated the primacy of dialogue over war in her SONA, she also reminded Congress that the process needed to be settled during their common “term”. I now wonder whether the motivation for inking a deal is for the sake of a leaving a legacy or to really address the long-standing injustices that spawned this conflict in the first place.