On January 25, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) jointly signed the last remaining annex on the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro (FAB). This annex is focused on disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation or otherwise known as the Annex on Normalization for the more 11,000 armed combatants.
Several civil society organizations and non government organizations congratulated all involved parties and sectors in the successful 43rd round of peace talks that led to this historic signing. Although we know that both panels and the Transition Commission may be behind schedule, this whole peace process is still happening fast, especially, on the ground or in the community levels.
As a result, just like any rebel fronts shifting into the paradigm of peace, the combatants do not have sufficient time and opportunity to properly consolidate their forces. Thus, even in defining the terms of peace, normalization, wealth sharing, a combatant will have hard time leveling his or her expectations from what will be written in the law and understand the Framework within the context of what the government and the MILF top leaders interprets it.
Misconceptions on the sides of Muslims and Christians about the whole peace process are realities in the barangays and towns inside the core territories. These are brought about by the apparent lack of and proper information dissemination in the grassroots. In the consultations that Al Qalam and our partners organizations that we have conducted, there is this sense of fear among the Christian communities in Cotabato City, North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat province. This fear radiates throughout the community and unfortunately, creates a defensive mode against each other. Painful memories and losses of lives and properties brought about by massacres and social injustices during the early 1970s or the Martial Law period triggers unhealed wounds, unresolved issues. This is likening it to walking in a landmine field where a misstep will blow into an explosion or a series of explosions.
What do we expect to happen in the next few months?
There will still be the other voices expressing their rejections and objections in the Framework Agreement.
Last Monday, January 27, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) of Commander Ombra Kato had already expressed their rejection on this development. The Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari group) are also vocal in stating that the FAB is a violation of the 1996 Peace Accord.
There are still those unheard voices clamoring for recognition and inclusion in the entire process.
But most importantly, there will be the silent voices that continuously work no matter what lies ahead that never wager in their commitment and passion to achieve a path of peace and social justice for everyone in Mindanao. We need to support the peace process. This is the path that may lead to democratizing the Bangsamoro region. This will give everybody a chance to level the playing field.
However, peace, democracy, and the terms used in the Annexes of the FAB are all concepts. They are all ideas inside the head of the framers of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Given this fact, we can understand a certain tendency toward skepticism of the people in Mindanao. But what do we, the post Martial Law generation, think is more important for a long-term diagnosis? If the GPH and MILF peace agreement is supposed to constitute a history written during our time, as many would like to think, then it must be able to stand in comparison to the historical events and impacts of the other peace talks.
For that matter, the comparison is not to be drawn with what happened during the Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) but rather with the aftermath of May 2010 elections. The victory of President Ninoy Aquino signaled a wind of change. In retrospect, we have a different administration, compared to the previous presidents of the Republic, which ushered a new climate for transparency, inclusivity, and a framework agreement that started first with defining the universal principles.
What lies ahead at the end of the tunnel? We know that the BBL will pass through congress and a referendum will be conducted to ask the stand of the people if they support the Bangsamoro peace deal. We also know that the basic teachings of the late Chairman Salamat Hashim were influenced by the likes of Sayid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.
Will the Bangsamoro adopt a radical political Islam in the process of governance? Or will they adopt a democratic-peaceful and inclusive governance? Either way we will be heading into these two possible directions.
My suggestion to the Filipino people is to remain vigilant and strong. The concept of peace is a noble stand and the devil is always in the details. I believe in five proactive ways of moving forward. First, we need to strengthen a network of young Muslim intellectuals that believe in the principle of Islam as a religion of peace, supports democracy, respects human dignity, and upholds social justice.
Second, our nation has to strengthen the Madrasah Education in the country that will integrate English language and prepare their students to K – 12 and global standards.
Third, thorough study and research on the environmental and economic benefits of the Liguasan marsh must be in place. Global warming and climate change are inevitable, hence people living in the 200,000 hectares marshland will be affected.
Fourth, we must understand that Islam has so many things to offer in terms of finance and economics. Thus, academe has to introduce Islamic Finance and Shariah Compliant Micro Finance to empower our people. Our financial markets have to adopt with the benefits of the halal industry.
Lastly, we need to continue conducting interfaith and intra-faith dialogue. We need to look beyond 2016 and prepare ourselves with the upcoming ASEAN integration.
The question of nationalism lies at the center of these moro fronts’ discussion of rebellion. They are a people who maybe at lost in defining their role and position in this republic. A state that reflects mainly a Luzon identity or nation which does not understand the identity and culture of the peoples in Mindanao, outside the context of faith or religion.
Objectively, must we keep dwelling on the issue of the so called Moro Problem? If we want to move forward we all must learn to go beyond the prejudices and distrust we may still have for each other. Because our parents’ stories are steeped with lessons of triumphs and failures which we can learn from. Our history is still unfolding before us.
I want to tell a different story for my two sons, a story that carries the theme of brotherhood, faith, and hope.