We are members of the Grassroots Peace Mission of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) who completed a three-day mission in Manila last October 25-27, 2006. For a change, we return with renewed confidence and hope that peace is indeed possible. We have delivered our message to Malacañang that the grassroots communities in the conflict-affected areas, Muslims, Christians and indigenous peoples collectively desire that the GRP-MILF peace talks to continue.
We are members of the Grassroots Peace Mission of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) who completed a three-day mission in Manila last October 25-27, 2006. For a change, we return with renewed confidence and hope that peace is indeed possible. We have delivered our message to Malacañang that the grassroots communities in the conflict-affected areas, Muslims, Christians and indigenous peoples collectively desire that the GRP-MILF peace talks to continue. The peace mission was an attempt to reverse history. A history of wars, a history of betrayals, a history of broken promises. If war has been imposed on us for several decades in Mindanao, this time, Mindanao grassroots people dared to stand before national leaders in Manila appealing, nay, telling them to sustain the talks and exert creative, “out-of-the-box” solutions if necessary to break the current impasse. Our mission had earlier met with the MILF peace panel and high command to also deliver the same message. We cannot accept another outbreak of war in our communities anymore.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in her message to the MPC, as conveyed to us by Secretary Jesus Dureza in Malacanang last October 25, 2006, assured us that the “peace process in Mindanao is the primary policy statement of the government, the primacy of the peace process remains to be her strategic policy for Mindanao”. Sec. Dureza reiterated that this policy has been reaffirmed categorically during the recent Command Conference in Camiguin where the President as the Commander-in-Chief announced before all field commanders of the AFP and PNP that despite the current deadlock in the peace talks, the government remains committed to the peace process and all units are duty bound to support this policy.
We are delighted with this statement. This is good news that we can bring back to our people. It spells the difference between war and peace in our communities. This is the message that we will tell our people.
The mission also tackled with Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez the repercussion of the criminal complaint filed against MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim over the recent bombing in Makilala which presents a “thorn” threatening a total collapse of the peace talks. Justice Gonzales informed us that the DOJ is looking into the case. Secretary Dureza on the other hand informed us that they know that Murad is not part of the bombing. Other national and even the Mayor of Davao City
believe so too. A low level decision was made by the PNP in Makilala and he assured the mission that they are doing something about it.
Representatives of 16 foreign embassies based in Metro Manila have meanwhile committed to support the mission as they relayed a plan to help find peace building models that could help the peace process in Mindanao get back on track. Such commitments include a series of round-table discussions with international experts on peace processes as part of an effort to find peace models applicable to Mindanao.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Manila-based non-government organizations had taken on the plan to organize a “National Peace Conference on Mindanao” to impress upon everyone that the Mindanao problem is not just the problem of Mindanaoans but also of our leaders and brethren in the country. This too is very significant as the hearts and minds of Filipinos outside Mindanao need to be enlightened about the real story of this blighted island. Senator Aquilino Pimentel Sr., through his chief of staff Atty. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., has promised to call a meeting of around 60 Mindanao legislators to discuss and push for a “national peace agenda that will highlight that of the Mindanaoans.”
While we have not met President Arroyo herself, we believe that we have effectively delivered our message to her. Through Presidential Assistant Isabel Tobias, she promised to meet us once she returns from China. We consider the mission a success in terms of broadening our support for the peace talks and symbolically asserting the grassroots voices in the whole discourse of peace and war in Mindanao. We rely on the assurances, promises and encouragements of the people that we have met in Manila.
We thank everyone for supporting and believing in the power of the grassroots. We specially thank the media for accompanying our journey and for believing that the quest for peace is likewise newsworthy. Let us remain vigilant as the task is far from over. There is much work to be done back in our communities.
We will not stop. We will continue to search for the peace that we all rightly deserve in Mindanao.