Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Memories and peace building

IF YOU are born and raised in conflict affected areas, you know that violence often begets violence. Aside from the vertical armed conflict, government vs Moro fronts, we have the horizontal conflict or what we can as clan feuds/rido. The horizontal conflict like rido motivates the families of the victims in a seemingly endless cycle of retaliation. The memory of the incident that led to the conflict fuels this cycle of violence.

Conflicts between the government and rebels, between ethnic groups, between Muslims and settlers, and between family members differ in so many ways and yet often share dynamic economic, political and cultural roots.

For the Bangsamoro peace process, I would like to raise the same questions as raised by Martha Minow in her book, “Breaking the Cycles of Hatred: Memory, Law, and Repair.” She asked the following questions: What explains these cycles and what can break them? What lessons can we draw from one form of violence that might be relevant to other forms? Can legal responses to violence provide accountability but avoid escalating vengeance? If so, what kinds of legal institutions and practices can make a difference? What kinds risk failure?

According to a review by Princeton University Press, the book of Minow represents a unique blend of political and legal theory, one that focuses on the double-edged role of memory in fuelling cycles of hatred and maintaining justice and personal integrity. Moreover, the book centerpiece comprises three penetrating essays by Minow.

She argues that innovative legal institutions and practices, such as truth commissions and civil damage actions against groups that sponsor hate, often work better than more conventional criminal proceedings and sanctions. The review also added Minow also calls for more sustained attention to the underlying dynamics of violence, the connections between intergroup and intrafamily violence, and the wide range of possible responses to violence beyond criminalization.

Last February 10, 2017, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process announced the 21 members of the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft the new Bangsamoro enabling law (BEL). The task of the BTC in crafting of the BEL is part of the implementation process of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2014. The BTC is also responsible for reconstructing the Bangsamoro areas and to draft a road map to peace in Mindanao between the Bangsamoro and the Philippine Government.

Being part of the BTC, I am fully aware of the needed reflection on the conditions necessary for resolution of intense and long-standing conflicts within our communities. The challenge in drafting the BEL is how we handle the memory of our people. As mentioned by Minow, memory plays a double-edged role in fuelling cycles of hatred and maintaining justice and personal integrity.

Our memories of Martial Law years and the series of massacres (on both sides – Muslims and Christians) powerfully connect personal and political agendas. We have seen how the memory of our people of these “dark ages” in Mindanao shaped the revolution of the moro fronts. It also advanced political interests of some sectors in our society that enabled them to gain government support during elections.

Our memories of deaths because of rido are so fresh in our hearts and minds that overcoming personal trauma are also needed. We also need to provide a mechanism how we can acknowledge them, find justice and develop leadership in creating a new social vision that includes all endeavors where memory plays a very important role.

However, we know that memory is elusive, and easily subject to manipulation. Thus, we need to look back and ask these questions: how much memory can the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino people handle? What kind of memory do we need to remember as we craft the BEL? Are there times when it is easier for us to forget? Can the BEL help us in crafting better tools for processing memory that can further individual and societal healing after war?

In the aftermath of a conflict, people stand up and try to re-write the narratives of their past, including the most recent one.

History and collective memory are double edged sword that may lead to what scholars on peace-building call as memorialisation, a process that aims to assist divided societies in this difficult task. The process can never be simple because it may often encounter contradictory processes as multiple narratives and several registers of truth exist, although some may not necessarily coincide. The process of constructing a narrative must be our goal. We, as Bangsamoro and Filipino people, we need to find a better narrative that will unite us.