10 Things: Why Should We Pursue the Bangsamoro Peace Talks?
We are all brothers and sisters not by blood, but by our tears, our suffering, our mourning. I am enraged by the violence in Mamasapano, but will never call for an all-out war. Many who beat on their war drums know nothing about being in a war zone. It is easy to be a commando on Facebook or a Rambo with a signature espresso drink. But war is ugly. Very, very ugly. Uglier than how movies portray it. I’ve seen firsthand the aftermath of the MoA-AD in 2008.
While the BBL did not in any way trigger the senseless deaths in Mamasapano, it became the primary casualty of a botched military operation against terrorism. Make no mistake, terrorism in all forms should be condemned but having the BBL threatened after the Mamasapano clash loses sight of the opportune moment to build peace and turn swords into ploughshares. Here are some perspectives on why we should see the bigger picture and pursue peace along with our cries for justice.
- We’ll have a more positive national outlook.
If there is a war in Mindanao and the Philippines will be on CNN, Al Jazeera and BBC. The image of the ENTIRE country will be one of death and destruction. Locally, people—all Filipinos—will be pitted against each other. There is no way we’ll have national unity, no way we’ll walk taller and have a better stride when fellow kababayans are getting killed. The stock market falls. Public confidence will be lower. There is no way we’ll be happy if our brothers and sisters, fellow citizens are languishing in evacuation centers.
- We’ll have more books not bullets, peace not war funds.
War needs a lot of money. FROM TAXPAYERS. Back in 2007, Howitzer 105 shells already fetch for 30k a piece. You need thousands of ammo a day. You need millions every day there is an operation. The wars waged in Mindanao in the past, 2000, 2003, 2008, did not win peace.
Erap, with his flashy gungho style complete with his camouflage battlegear did not win the war. You want to recruit sons and daughters by killing their fathers? Camp Abubakar was demolished then, but rebel recruitment was at an all-time high. Camp Abubakar was destroyed but new guerilla units, new areas opened.
- We can have a better naval fleet instead.
The Philippines has a bigger coastline than even the US but most of our AFP modernization go to internal security, when Armed Forces should be focused on external threats such as China’s intrusion into our waters. Or smuggling drugs, guns and goods through our very porous borders. Or foreign overfishing of billions of pesos on our shores. If we have peace in Mindanao, the state’s efforts can focus on these important issues and modernize our water capabilities.
- We’ll feed the doves not the hawks in Mindanao.
We stop the BBL now, and we’re killing the sacrifices of the Mamasapano victims all over again. We stop BBL now, and we’re killing the future of the children in these war-torn, hopeless, helpless areas. We stop our peace efforts now and we’re pushing the children and youth of Bangsamoro to a future where there is no option but to bear arms. There are both hawks and doves in the MILF as there are both war freaks and peace makers in the government. Yes there are barbaric and violent elements in the MILF but they should not be given the chance to derail the entire peace process. If we do not pursue the principled path of peace, we’re letting the hawks dictate the outcomes.
- Projects for the poorest communities can proceed.
The poorest communities needing help, those with the lowest human development index scores in this country, are in the conflict zones (ARMM areas and the Eastern Seaboard). Giving communities a rest from gun battles pave the way for development projects to continue. While no war does not mean instant eradication of poverty, hostile situations make it exponentially difficult for development work to flourish.
- Our sense of nationhood and democracy will mature.
For many people it is difficult to realize a diverse, multicultural, multiethnic Philippines. It is difficult to imagine ‘Bangsamoro’ as a region, a people, an identity and an opportunity for self-development and self-determination of a minority group. Learning to respect and appreciate our diversity, suspending disbelief, and addressing biases against minorities is an indicator of a vibrant multicultural country.
Setting-up a more responsive and better government setup (like Spain-Catalonia, China-Hongkong, UK-Northern Ireland, to name a few) requires mature and engaged majority and minorities. Hell, these configurations are never perfect but it beats the crap out of this thing called the ‘unacceptable status quo’. Having a modern, democratic and secular Bangsamoro government under the Philippine state is a dream but we have this opportune time to make it real.
- There will be room for respect, healing and reconciliation.
Pursuing peace is not a zero-sum game where one wins and the other loses. We need to realize that historically, we were ‘colonizers’ of an already occupied territory called Mindanao. We need to recognize that the land has already been watered with blood and tears for far too long and we need to put a stop to this. We need the entire country to respect minorities, we need the entire country for our collective healing and reconciliation.
- We can focus energies on more productive and more creative pursuits: development in Bangsamoro areas.
The most fertile lands, the most viable resources for agriculture and industries are in Mindanao. The place is rich but there are very limited productive projects in the Bangsamoro areas. There are problems of jobs and food security, of malnutrition and illiteracy. Developing the Bangsamoro means development for the entire country. It means power and wealth shared in the poorest regions.
- Less deaths and lower levels of violence.
This comes as a surprise to many: the ceasefire and coordination mechanisms in the GPH-MILF peace negotiations actually work. The mechanisms were setup as early as 1997. Having the International Monitoring Team, the Coordination Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group helped lower levels of violence, and lower the number of skirmishes on the ground.
- Communities can live their lives, normally.
Farmers can farm, fishers can fish, kids can go to school. People’s aspirations in these war-torn communities are very simple yet profound: “Makatulog ng hindi putukan ang nanghehele sa kanila sa gabi. Magkaroon ng bahay bukod sa tents na butas-butas. Hayaan lang kaming makapagtanim at maka-ani.” The bigger picture should always look after the poorest of the poor, the most sidelined and most marginalized of our fellow Philippine citizens. We should look after those that were mentioned by Pope Francis as “peripheries”, those that need our “mercy and compassion” the most.
Let us all call for justice but not just for the SAF 44—let us be enraged that Mindanao has been bleeding for decades. Let us be enraged that billions have been spent, and millions have lost lives and livelihood. Let us be enraged that the kairos moment to build peace is now, but all of the gains of peace are threatened.
Nikki Delfin remains hopeful with the GPH-MILF peace process, although he has seen far too many peace process setbacks in his decade as a peace advocate.
Photo credits: Gil Nartea and PhilANSA