Tuesday, April 8, 2014

‘Peace-tahan’ at Mendiola: signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro

 Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 04-10 April 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA, with a shorter title: 'Peace-tahan at Mendiola.'  This author/blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines of the said paper.

The crowd gathered in front of the Mendiola Peace Arch on 27 March was made up of groups representing Muslim communities and organizations in Metro Manila and Luzon, and a contingent of maritime cadets from Marawi City.  The gathering was described as a Bayanihang Bangsamoro, a ‘peacetahan sa pirmahan ng Bangsamoro’, a peace festival during the signing of the comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).  This actually started with a vigil the night before.

This was one occasion where all the men and women leaders of the delegation were given a chance to speak.  They graciously expressed very briefly their hopes for peace in Mindanao and for Sharia Islamia in Bangsamoro.  One speaker was introduced as a sultan residing in Pasig City.  In jest, he quipped that sometime in the future there would probably be sultans all over the country, many of them residing outside Mindanao.  Of course, this elicited laughter since everyone is aware that the core territory of the proposed Bangsamoro is the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 

Green appears to be the color of Bangsamoro; hence, the use of green balloons and green pennants One large group had GMAT printed on their green shirts. GMAT means Greenhills Mall Association of Traders, or something like that, which led me to ask in good humor if they closed their stores to come to Mendiola and celebrate the signing of the CAB.  Similar trading groups came from Luzon provinces like Zambales, Batangas and Bulacan.

I sought out to interview the young ones and many of them were not born in their parents’ hometowns in Mindanao.  They are the generation whose parents were uprooted by decades of armed hostilities there and settled in Manila and other parts of the country where they are engaged in some economic activity like selling and trading. They have grown up in other regions outside of Mindanao, which they have visited at least once so far.  They speak in Pilipino although they use their local dialects at home.  These young people may see the end of war in Mindanao and enjoy the promise of peace and Sharia Islamia in Bangsamoro.  
There is still a long way to go on the ‘roadmap to the Bangsamoro entity’.   The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is scheduled to submit the draft of the Basic Law for deliberation in Congress this year, which President Benigno Aquino III reportedly will signify as urgent.
The proposed law may not have easy sailing in Congress even if the CAB signing has been hailed as a great step in the peace process.  These four Annexes of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB, signed 15 October 2012) are expected to be thoroughly examined in the legislature: transitional modalities and arrangements (27 February 2013); revenue generation and wealth sharing (13 July 2013); power sharing (08 December 2013); and normalization (25 January 2014).  According to reports, Senate Majority Leader Allan Peter Cayetano had said that there is going to be a “complicated” legislation, and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV had expressed ‘guarded optimism’ since they have not yet seen the details of the CAB.

The roadmap indicates “if needed, proposed Constitutional Amendments” in the proposed Basic Law.  Any amendments would certainly entail intense discussions and public hearings in Congress, and may spawn debates in the social media and public forums. 

The roadmap scenario calls for the passage of the Basic Law and a referendum on the proposed Bangsamoro territory this year; the termination of the ARMM and the setting up of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim ministerial government, in 2015; and the establishment of the elected ministerial government after the May 2016 elections.  Other formalities in 2016 will include the signing of an exit agreement and the dissolution of the BTA and the Third-Party Monitoring Team (TPMT).

A good friend who is with the network of women engaged in action on 1325 (the United Nations resolution on women’s participation in peace and security issues), and who attended the signing ceremony in Malacañang, had this to say: “Yes, it's a long way to go but [the CAB] is a crucial first step.  Murad said in his speech this afternoon that the Bangsamoro will not be monopolized by MILF. He said that the agreement is for all including MNLF and indigenous peoples. The CAB has very good provisions. We all have to do our share in implementing them. ... [W]e consulted women on what they wanted integrated in the CAB and many of the provisions reflect our proposed text/language.”

A Muslim friend in the academic community is not as enthusiastic.  He said that “what is needed is not peace but development in the Bangsamoro. Peace will follow once there's development.”  

Others too have expressed some reservations on the prominence of Malaysia as principal facilitator in the peace negotiations.  For example, these two historical clouds: the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Sabah issue. 

In my researches on the history of our town, I have come across manuscripts about the fear of the government authorities in Zambales when Moro boats were seen off the coast of the province during the Spanish colonial times.  There were petitions to the Governor-General in Manila to approve the purchase of boats and converting Capones Island as a defense outpost against the possible attack of the Moro pirates.  
It’s been a long time since I met my first Moro: the itinerant vendor who came from far away Mindanao to sell pearls and other precious stones in our town in Zambales.  Several years later, as a freshman in the University of the Philippines, newfound Muslim friends introduced me to the durian, which I loved at first bite despite the unpleasant smell.  In my sophomore year, I saw how religiously my Muslim Tausog roommate in the dormitory recited his daily prayers.  I had worked with a Muslim lawyer who became a commissioner in the COMELEC and is the current secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

My brother-in-law, fresh from the Philippine Military Academy in the late 1970’s, went to war in Jolo.  During his years of service in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, peace was elusive in Mindanao.   

May the historical transformation of Moro to Bangsamoro bring about peacetahan, finally,  in Mindanao.

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