I Dream of Peace

Pres Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak applaud the signing ceremony
Pres Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak applaud the signing ceremony

Last October 15, the Philippine government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) finally signed a Framework Peace Agreement. It was a historic event that elicited mixed reactions from the different sectors of our society. The reactions ranged from outright joy and approval, to cautious optimism, to indifference, to apprehension, to cynicism, to outright dismay and disapproval.

Moslem supporters of the Peace Agreement Camp outside Malacanang
Moslem supporters of the Peace Agreement Camp outside Malacanang

But for many of those who live in the Bangsa Moro designated territories and their peripheries, achieving that elusive peace is a wondrous dream that they’ve long waited for. Having been assigned to Mindanao numerous times during my military years, I too have witnessed the horrors, the hurts and the tears brought about by decades of fighting and finger-pointing. And all these have only served to fuel that vicious cycle of tragedies that we continued to inflict on each other. Our people have suffered more than enough. And I have cried with them, bled with them, buried the dead with them. What an irony! The ease with which we destroy, and the difficulty we find as we rebuild.

These guns must be silenced forever
These guns must be silenced forever

Rebuilding a house, a road or a bridge is not the most difficult thing to do. But mending the heart, restoring the trust, forgiving (though not necessarily forgetting), moving forward, here lies the difficulty. Too many lives have been lost, too many dreams shattered. How do we bring back the past, when Moslems and Christians lived harmoniously with each other, their homes open to one another? How do we convince each other that we can – in fact, we must – move on, as brothers that we truly are? How do we erase the stigma of treacheries and betrayals, and remove the stench of death and destruction that pervade in our land? Can we now live in peace, now that the Framework Peace Agreement has been signed? Does this signal the end of hostilities in our southern frontier?

At the preliminary talks in Mindanao
At the preliminary talks in Mindanao

Truth to tell, the Framework is not the the answer, but quite simply, the start of a long journey that is meant to rehabilitate our hearts, our heads and our land. There will still be many challenges, so many pitfalls that could collapse the efforts if we do not help push it forward. Last month, I was fortunate to have been invited by VSO Bahaginan to travel with a retired Irish police officer who brought with him a wealth of experience and knowledge in Northern Ireland’s transition from a veritable war-zone to a progressive and hope-filled community. And it has reinvigorated my resolve to help make the peace process work.

Peter Sheridan was a member of the Irish Police Force which was tasked to enforce peace and security in the streets of Belfast during those difficult days when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was threatening to destroy Northern Ireland. He was wounded in a car-bombing incident that killed 2 of his buddies. He was ‘projected’ for assassination, and had to transfer his family many times to elude his would-be assassins.

Praying for peace in our time
Praying for peace in our time

In the visits we had, and the dialogues with different sectors, particularly in the areas in Cotabato and Lanao, it was clear that there remains many contentious issues that need to be resolved. Issues on power-sharing, on the proposed Bangsa Moro territory, on security, on the status of firearms, and many more. The first salvo of questions raised during discussions would almost always reflect a defensive posture, and a desire to protect self-interests. “What’s in it for me?” – was always the veiled question amidst all the probing concerns raised.

Messages of support for the peace initiatives
Messages of support for the peace initiatives

It was obvious that the Framework Peace Agreement still does not have all the answers to these queries. The details for each and every issue are still up for discussion. However, it is better to be able to discuss these problems over coffee as opposed to letting the guns do the talking. With each discussion, some concerns are resolved, and more goodwill is developed. Creative ideas are presented and later tested, and win-win solutions found. It was emphasized further that the peace agreement should not be viewed as a zero-sum game, where the gain for one side will mean a corresponding loss to the other. For in war, nobody wins; and in peace, everyone wins!

MILF fighters rejoice
MILF fighters rejoice

The opportunity for us to move forward is here with the Framework Peace Agreement. Like many of us, the MILF leadership, as well as their rank and file, have expressed their desire to stop the fighting. Let us stop focusing on the small bumps and potholes along the road then. These humps – which are the problems that we must jointly resolve – can stymie us, if we allow them to. But armed with enough perseverance and the capacity for healthy give-and -take, we can certainly make this work. Instead, let us focus on the price that awaits us as we thread this difficult portion of the journey. The dividends for achieving peace are right there, with more development programs, more education, more and better health services, more progress, and ultimately, a better world to live in.

I dream of peace in Mindanao. Let us all join hands to make this a reality.

Govt soldiers hoping for the cessation of hostilities
Govt soldiers hoping for the cessation of hostilities
Give peace a chance - for our younger generations.
Give peace a chance – for our younger generations.
Young Moslem children yearning for peace.
Young Moslem children yearning for peace.
An old women gives us her peace sign.
An old women gives us her peace sign.
Let us all rejoice over the absence of war.
Let us all rejoice over the absence of war.
Who won with the peace agreement? Everyone won.
Who won with the peace agreement? Everyone won.
A peace vigil on the eve of the signing
A peace vigil on the eve of the signing
How to make the demobilization process work
How to make the demobilization process work
Milf women auxiliaries proudly display themselves
Milf women auxiliaries proudly display themselves
A peace sign amid the barb wire
A peace sign amid the barb wire
Senior warriors can go home now
Senior warriors can go home now
These weapons must no longer bark in anger
These weapons must no longer bark in anger
All smiles on the eve of the signing
All smiles on the eve of the signing
Supporting the Bangsa Moro
Supporting the Bangsa Moro
Moslems rejoice in Manila as the signing is announced
Moslems rejoice in Manila as the signing is announced
More talks in Kuala Lumpur
More talks in Kuala Lumpur
Moslem women rally to show their support for the peace talks
Moslem women rally to show their support for the peace talks
Phil Rep Marvic Leonen and MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal sign the documents
Phil Rep Marvic Leonen and MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal sign the documents
Pres Aquino makes his remarks
Pres Aquino makes his remarks
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11 comments

  1. Your knowledge is only exceeded by your acumen. Regards to your wife from an eighty-nine year old man that she was kind to five years ago.

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      1. She saw an old man sitting alone at your 35th high school reunion.She came over and chatted with me a few minutes. Afterwards I felt like I was part of the group.

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  2. Reblogged this on charly's blogsite and commented:

    On the occasion of the 1st Anniversary of the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) between the Philippine government and the MILF last 15 Oct 2012, I am reblogging this article on our aspirations for peace in MIndanao and in the entire country in general.
    After a year of negotiations, there remain some contentious issues, particularly on power-sharing and normalization. There have however been encouraging developments, with the panels engaged in “exhaustive and honest discussions in order to identify the best formulations for an agreement that would respond to the aspirations of both Parties.”

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    1. You are apparently having more success negotiating with the Muslims,than any other country.Keep trying,and best wishes from the old man.

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      1. hello, my friend! thanks for the encouragement. yes, we certainly can’t afford to be cynical and do nothing about it. the pursuit for peace will undoubtedly be a marathon, not a sprint race. my regards to all!

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