Pursuit of Peace in Mindanao: Where the Failure Lies

Sometime in 1969 the first major armed rebellion led by Nur Misuari under the name National Moro Liberation Front (MNLF) erupted, and since then efforts to bring lasting peace in Mindanao has proven to be elusive. For almost half a century of conflict and desire to find lasting peace, all sides have failed to come-up with a solution that addresses the Mindanao problem.

When President Benigno Aquino came into power in 2010, one of his major agenda was to forge peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter group of the MNLF. MILF was formed in opposition to the MNLF’s decision to enter into a peace deal with the government and settle for autonomy instead of an independent state. The President unilaterally declared that the Autonomous Region as a result of the peace deal with the MNLF concluded by the signing of the Final Peace Agreement in 1996 has failed and that a new agreement is to be adopted-this time with the MILF. Such a declaration led to resumption of skirmishes by the MNLF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) a new splinter group from the MILF.

For almost half a century of conflict and struggle for peace, the government seems NOT to have grasped the basic reality in Mindanao’s diversity of tribes. According to the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), Mindanao consists of at least 18 indigenous but non-Muslim/Christian tribes commonly referred to as the Lumads and 13 Moro tribes (Islamic Tribes). The reality concerning these tribes was that they were never united under one banner but rather constantly involved in tribal wars. Probably the only prominent leadership back then was the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanate of Maguindanao, both of which considerably declined to the point they ceased to exist at the dawn of a new era.

With this basic fact and reality, it is a false hope, as peddled by the current Administration that the adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will finally end the half century of bloodshed in Mindanao. The government has made the same mistake committed by the former Administration when it negotiated with the MNLF. It negotiated an exclusive peace agreement. The realization of the ideals of the peace deal with the MNLF failed because it was a peace deal with a minority. MNLF headed by its founding chairman Nur Misuari, is a Tausug-Samal so that MNLF as an organization is dominantly Tausug. When internal strife emerged in the MNLF, the new factions formed further demonstrated the strong influence of tribal identity; Hasim Salamat, a Maguindanaoan, then formed the MILF and another group mainly Maranaos formed the MNLF-Reformist Group.

The reality is that MNLF before, and now the MILF are but only stanzas in the whole Mindanao poetry. They do not represent nor speak for the entire tribes of Mindanao. What is true to both groups is that they possess the firepower but not the mandate of all the tribal groups and other stakeholders in Mindanao. To empower only one or few tribes and charge them to head all the others is a problem in its self not a solution. Dissension from the other tribes will naturally emerge as witnessed in the past and as it is today.

Real Comprehensive Agreement

The government should understand that Mindanao is characterized by tribal diversity. The solution to the long-standing struggle in Mindanao is a true comprehensive agreement; an agreement that involves all the tribes and stakeholders. An agreement, founded on the basis of cultural and tribal identity not only on the ability to wage war.

It is true that the problem cannot be resolved purely by military action but rather political, however, negotiators are missing yet another important ingredient in the whole menu of peace seeking -tribal and cultural identity. The rise of armed struggle in Mindanao was a call to respect their unique identities so that any agreement, though political in character, must not deviate from the very reason of the uprising that is truly about tribal identity. The government should forge an agreement that takes into account the tribal and cultural diversity in the region.

The Aquino administration committed a fatal mistake when it isolated the MNLF, the Sultanate of Sulu and collectively the Lumad tribes in the current peace process. To negotiate only with the MILF, the product of which will inevitably affect the interest and rights of all the other tribal groups is not comprehensive but rather selective if not oppressive to the others.

Disarmament

The existence of numerous armed groups in Mindanao further exacerbates the problem. Lawlessness plague the land as armed groups further their own interest by violence. Terrorism, banditry, and all other criminal activities flourished in the region because of ease in obtaining firearms and impunity. The success of any peace agreement will rely also on the success of disarming all the groups including the MILF. When the last renegade gun finally comes to a deep slumber only then when the agreements adopted by all the stakeholders for the creation of a political entity unique for the people of Mindanao will sprout towards the light of a new morning, the dawn of a peaceful home for all the tribes in Mindanao.

The road to peace is a journey across treacherous waters. A journey, the success of which relies on the careful assessment and consideration of the diverse parties and complex problems. It maybe a slow process but most importantly it must be a careful journey. Pursuit of peace is not a sprint to the finish line as the current Administration wants it to be. It is not important if whose administration it was forged or who will get the credit. What is important is an assurance that after the long journey, at the end, the conflicting voices will cease to exist, and the different beats of drums for marchers of different paths will finally beat as one to which all will march towards a new Mindanao.

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No Progress Without Nationalism

400 years of Spanish Rule, 45 Years of American and 5 years of Japanese, 450 years of foreign occupation, was there anything left of what really is a Filipino culture, or was there any in the first place.

Philippine Archipelago, said to be composed of 7107 islands, likewise is composed of numerous Indigenous Communities who were never united before, never lived in one community until foreign powers came to gather us, but in gathering the tribes they also used other tribes against the others.

Thanks to the foreigners a sort of high breed Philippine dwellers came into existence, a product of inter-tribal marriage as well as cross marriage between natives and the foreigners.

So much so of history, that we need to move on to present time, we now live in a Republic called Philippines with its inhabitants called Filipinos.

Philippines, in July 4, 1946 took off as a newly liberated young democracy. Full of hope its pioneer pilots aimed towards the skies of endless possibilities. At first the take off is slow but is gaining momentum, and the countries surrounding us looked up in awe, some in admiration some enviously. We are second only to Japan for so many years. But before the Philippines reached the desired altitude, the aircraft encountered some troubles, a new pilot steered the aircraft dangerously. His name is Marcos. Philippines while supposedly still in the take off process, started to take a deep dive. There was social unrest, corruption plague the land. Public funds are transferred from the national coffers to private banks accounts.

We were successful in throwing away that crooked pilot, but then we never had real pilots. Everyone would want to hold the steering wheel not to drive us towards the safe altitudes but only to get what they wanted.

Most leaders of this country from the lowest in the town level to the Presidency have little regard for national interest. They all look forward in getting the most in the pie instead of equally sharing it to all the people.

But then was it the fault of the politicians alone? Not at all. We are all complicit in this sordid situation we are now stacked into. Many Filipinos today have little love for this country. At a young age, idea of getting a better life is to migrate in another country. The idea of intelligence is how well one would speak foreign language. The idea of quality product is anything made outside the Philippines. The idea of beautiful or handsome is how white the skin is or how high the nose bridge is. People never mind the long cue to watch Hollywood movie, or foreign band concert.

We complain of what sort of country we have, what kind of economy we have, when we are all murderers of our own economy. We do not patronize our own so that local products do not find favour even among Filipinos, not that they are of low qualities but simply because of our colonial mentality.

We cannot take pride of what we produce. We think we look better when we wear signature clothes or apparels. Of course our local companies and their products cannot be perfect at first but that will happen only if we help them.

Common Filipino mentality now is focused outside the country. Our hearts and minds do not dwell here. We all are asking what our country can do for us, without us asking what we can do for our country.

We should learn at least from our neighbours that nationalism is an important ingredient of progress and development. Japan took 2 atomic bombs, plus thousands of incendiary bombs burning many of its cities. After the war they are made to pay, until they are compelled to pay in kind (Philippines owns a land in Japan as part of war reparations because they have no more money to pay). Japan was reduced to ashes, more devastated than the Philippines, yet the people work hand-in-hand, setting aside their personal interests knowing that if they could rebuild a strong country everything will return to them, and they were right. Japan in few years surpassed the Philippines. Japan now transports its people with bullet train while Philippines was stucked in its old choo choo train. Another example is South Korea, after the Korean war it has no functioning industry but the government together with the people worked together in rehabilitating their country’s industries. And not long they have succeeded.

The truth is, these two countries are not free from corruption. They have corrupt officials just like the Philippines, the difference maybe is that, they never totally set aside national interest. And for the People, they did their part in building their nation. They did not rely on the government, but everyone made sacrifices to make their country better, to which they now reap the fruits.

It is a fact that one cannot prosper without nationalism. One has to love his own first before others will. We have to really ask what is my fair share in the development and progress of this country? Let us for a while stop our dreams of becoming somebody else. You cannot be truly an American or European by bleaching of your colored skin. Let us learn to love this country and work together to make it better. Let us cultivate it, nurture it so that it may bear fruits that will inure to our own benefits.

Let us love this country for regardless of how many passports you have, regardless of how many cosmetic surgeries you undergo you cannot drain out your Filipino blood, and no matter what, this is our best place under the sun, and as the old quote states “there will never be another place like home”. Let us work to make this home, a good home, for all of us.

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Rizal Park vs. Torre de Manila

History versus Development, Culture versus Development and Modernization, Nature versus Development. Here in the Philippines we are always confronted with the dilemma of extremes. We have never perfected the art of harmonization. Either the other side suffers while the other one flourish.

Today yet another issue confronts us in our time. History vs. Development. A building being constructed more than 100 meter behind the National Hero shrine is being questioned and demands for its demolition is pushed as it blocks the former picturesque view.

RP(Photo taken from google)

I am a sentimental person, I love history. With this matter this is my personal take.

I’ve seen important landmarks in other countries, important landmarks with buildings around them, yet these statues/landmarks are not diminished, much more the people there are even more patriotic than we Filipinos.

My question is, what is there to boast about the landmark if we Filipinos cannot grasp or care to know and live what that landmark represents and what it wants to tell us.

That landmark I think is not intended simply as tourist spot, but a living testament of the grand ideals of our forefathers. What is the use of a picturesque landmark when the beauty of its message we cannot appreciate much more we cannot follow. Lessons of history should not just be seen, it must be lived, immortalized in our lives as Filipino citizens… not just in the stones.

Ironically while we struggle to protect the view of Rizal Park, question such as whether Filipino as a subject would still be mandatory in private schools is being considered, in fact more time is allotted to foreign languages than to Filipino subject. For educational field trips apparently Rizal Park, or Bonifacio shrine seldom find their names in the list, instead Enchanted Kingdom, Star City and Mall of Asia are more popular.

I hope this issue was resolved when things were just starting, not when the possible damage is as high as the two structures now.

Ode to the Vanishing Paradise

Batanes

Oh land so dear

God blessed thee so clear

Verdant hills, black and white beaches and clear seas

Above the land, under the sea, are wealth to cherish

Oh God the supreme architect

By the winds He carved the hills and mountains

By the current of the sea, He outlined the shores

For long He kept it hidden, like a precious stone in the treasure chest.

Then by His providence, chose among the tribes a custodian

The Ivatans, so they are the chosen one

They settled there and became one with the land

Small it was then, as it is now, but sustenance was sufficient for the band

Luxury,iyara

Some say-they lack

Some say-we lack

It depends to the person what is indeed worthy

The simple truth is,

We don’t need high rise building-

To see what lies beneath,

We have Iraya and Karaboboan, we can see much from their zenith

No need for super markets

For the land yields enough livestock and fruits

The sea produces enough fish for the day

We need not worry for food is always on the way

They said we are left behind,

A remnant of the old world,

Yet, back then children respect the elders,

God we fear, and above all we value our virtues

Leaving all behind, have we then progressed?

Now, paradigm shifted,

We think what is beautiful is the concrete jungle

Mountains paved or levelled

Trees we wish to replace with towers

And we want to re-draw the coastlines

When the Creator comes back for accounting,

A question worth answering,

Did we kept it in the best way

Or we wasted it away?

New Knights of the Round Table

Malacca

Trip to Malacca with fellow Human Rights Advocates. Post International Conference on Human Rights

We only live once, and we will not live for all eternity. And at the end we will not remember how much money we have in bank, but only good memories. Make as much as you can…

Tragedy of the Kurds in Kobane

“Let everyone know that we will resist to our last drop of blood together with the Kurdish youth who have come [to us] from the four sides of Kurdistan. If necessary, we will repeat the example of Stalingrad… in Kobane.” – Polat Can, spokesperson for the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG)

Once more, another tragedy is about to unfold because of political expediency and hypocrisy. The Kurds are betrayed by the Coalition of the Unwilling. Be it remembered that it was the Kurdish fighters who halted the total occupation of Iraq and the unprecedented spread of ISIL held territory. Months after numerous countries promised to provide military aid, none was fulfilled so far. What is even heartbreaking is for Kerry (US) to say that Kobane’s fall is a tragedy, but saving it is not part of the strategy.

It was admitted that the ISIS will not be defeated without sending boots on the ground, yet, the most capable group able to defeat the ISIS are left to their ruin. Fighting with outdated weapons as against the well armed ISIS. Kurds are so far the most reliable armed group in that region, having no other desire but to live in peace at least in a land they can call their own. In Kobane, the Kurds for sure will think if they will survive the onslaught-will they ever trust the world again. After responding to the call to stop the advance of ISIS, they are left alone in their fight, the victory of which will benefit not only the Kurds but the whole world.

When the last Kurdish gun come into silence, be assured once more that the deafening sound of ISIL terrorism will once more reign in the region…

“In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”… –Martin Luther King Jr.

Obsession with the “end of the world”

I wonder why there are people who are so obsessed with “end of the world”, why? what can you do if indeed the world will come to an end? why not live your life to its fullest, making the best out of it, and leave the days of the earth into the hands of God… worry about your spiritual, personal and social affairs, and leave the end of days to God.