In a street corner in downtown Marawi city, a tattered sack used as streamer hang under a tree defiantly flies amid campaign posters of candidates for elective office. It contained the message, painted in red letters: “Peace not war!”
Despite the ringing importance of an agenda for peace for the next set of leaders of the country, it has never been part of, if not slimly treated in, the political discourse during campaigning for the recently conducted May 10 general elections.
Although peace advocates are generally hopeful of the poll turnout, many also maintain a healthy skepticism over what would be the actual direction of the incoming administration of Benigno Aquino III on peace issues.
“We hope that the electoral victors will not ignore the issues of our Muslim brothers and sisters that were basically ignored during the campaign. We hope that President Noynoy becomes, not just a President of the Christian majority, but also a President for Muslim Mindanao,” read a statement from non-government group Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID).
Maranao women leader Samira Gutoc, a PCID convenor, appealed to Aquino “to formally define a peace agenda within the next 100 days of your presidency, or even during the current transition phase.”
Gutoc said that by doing so, Aquino would be sending an early signal to the peace community on how to engage his administration on the subject, and hence build predictability of intentions.
“Noynoy never really have a very concrete agenda on Mindanao, let alone a peace-building track with Moro rebels, in the course of the campaign,” Gutoc noted.
“But now, he has the overwhelming mandate of the people to rule this country,” she added.
Characterizing Aquino’s victory as “phenomenal,” Gutoc said the nation, including the president-elect himself, must be wary of his administration unexpectedly going the way of Estrada’s on a direction for peace in Mindanao.
Gutoc said the “Erap peace track” may be largely founded on his confidence that “11 million people are behind him in whatever he would like to do.”
Estrada swept the presidential race in 1998 with some 11 million votes, a margin of more than six million votes over then House Speaker Jose De Venecia.
Gutoc urged Aquino to “stay yellow all throughout.”
Yellow is the color of the Aquino political campaign, copied from that of his late mother Corazon when she battled with then strongman Ferdinand Marcos in the 1986 snap elections.
In one Asian mythology, yellow represents the sun, which means birth, ray of hope, she said. “He should stand for a sustained peace process.”
Amirah Lidasan of the Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA) said the Hacienda Luisita case hangs heavy in her perception of the conflict management direction of an Aquino presidency.
Lidasan said that in the case of the Moro conflict, it would serve the peace process well if his administration is able to meet the same standards of sincerity as shown by the negotiators of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government panel that crafted the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
The controversial MOA-AD was considered by both panels then, to be the crowning glory of the 11-year peace negotiations, only to be aborted and cause renewed armed hostilities in 2008.
“Sir Noynoy, please prove that you are for peace,” appealed Gutoc.
Lidasan also took issue of Aquino’s “circle of influence” who can scuttle his own peace intentions.
The same apprehensions are held by the MILF leadership that is why they have declared, several days after it has become apparent Aquino is winning the presidential race, to wait and see how his administration sets out on the peace front.
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace negotiating panel, had noted that in announcing his presidential bid last year, Aquino has openly declared the primacy of peace negotiations as a pillar of how his administration would deal with the Moro aspiration for self-governance.
But Iqbal said they are “very cautious” with an Aquino presidency given “the people that surrounds him and their would-be influence in his leadership.”
Among others, he referred to North Cotabato vice-governor Manny Piñol, vice-presidential bet Mar Roxas, now senator-elect Franklin Drilon, and outgoing Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin, who were the staunch opponents of the aborted MOA-AD.
In a post in its official website, the MILF describes Aquino, thus: “As a person, Noynoy is surely a good man, but as president, it remains to be seen.”
“A president has to make hard decisions; and to do that requires foresight, resoluteness, and political will… (and) to weather the pressures of… vested interest groups,” the MILF observes.
“Considering all these factors, it takes not just being good to be able to be a successful leader,” the group added.
But through the vein of parental legacy, the MILF appears to have a very high opinion of Aquino. Aquino himself has vowed to be true to the legacy of his parents as he takes the reins of government.
“Judging from the examples (of) his parents, especially the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., the son can be as close to the Moros as his father,” said the MILF.
The rebel group traced that it was Benigno Jr. who “almost single-handedly exposed the Jabidah Massacre” in Corregidor Island in 1968 “where scores of Moro trainees were mowed down in cold blood by government soldiers for refusing to obey orders to invade Sabah.”
The exposé heightened Moro discontent of government and led to the formation of a united front for the secessionist struggle.
Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, was not anti-Muslim either, the MILF said.
It said that Cory was the one who offered 10 provinces to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari in 1986 for the coverage of the future Moro autonomy in Mindanao. Cory even went personally to Sulu to show her government’s strong gesture of restarting the peace process.
The 10 provinces are the very same areas spelled out in the Tripoli Agreement of Peace inked in 1976 between the Marcos government and the MNLF.
However, Misuari rejected the interim autonomy offer of Cory, which was supposedly for a 10-year period, and instead went out of bounds of the Tripoli accord to demand 23 provinces.
The MILF also paid tribute to Cory for “causing the inclusion of the provision on regional autonomy for the Moros and Cordillera in the 1987 Constitution.” -Ryan D. Rosauro
A wish-list for Mindanao peace
The PCID has come up with a list of actionable agenda for Mindanao peace, which it dished out during a poorly attended presidential debate. Hence, it re-issued the agenda following the May 10 polls “for the benefit of President-in-waiting Noynoy Aquino.” The agenda, summarized below, is divided into short and medium to long-term.
1. Demilitarize ARMM and strengthen the National Police Force.
2. Review cases of Muslims arrested under the Human Security Act and free the innocents.
3. Give the Muslims significant representation and participation in government, per the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.
4. Create the Shari’ah Appellate Court.
5. Immediately put into place a catch-up budget for conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
6. Provide reconstruction and rehabilitation assistance to the IDPs.
7. Approve the executive order setting up the Funds for Assistance to Madrasah Education (F.A.M.E.) to strengthen Madrasah education.
8. Support Islamic Studies Institutes.
9. Ensure autonomy for institutions of higher learning.
Medium-Term to Long-Term
1. Put in place a holistic and inclusive peace process.
2. Rethink government strategy in relation to the peace talks.
3. Uphold the primacy of peace, not military objectives.
4. Ensure the full implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.
5. Strengthen the rule of law.
6. Reform the electoral process.
7. Ensure genuine fiscal autonomy for ARMM.
8. Capacitate the ARMM-Regional Government.
9. Pass legislations pertaining to anti-discrimination against any cultural, religious or other groups; equality of opportunities in education, economic pursuits, and employment; certification of Halal food and other products.
10. Should there be constitutional change, support amendments to the charter that would be beneficial to Muslims and that would address issues on ancestral domains. (Ryan D. Rosauro)