Advocates keep hope alive for peace

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Friday, March 27, 2015

FILE -- Filipino Muslims flash the peace symbol while chanting slogans during a rally at the Lower House to call for the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law, or BBL in Mindanao, Philippines on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 in Quezon City. (AP)

ILIGAN CITY -- Hope springs eternal for peace advocates amid new challenges buffeting the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that was forged a year ago on Friday.

“There is every reason to push on with peace,” said Lisa Ugay of the Mindanao Solidarity Network (MSN) in an interview from Maguindanao.

Civil society groups led by Balay Rehabilitation Center, United Youth of the Philippines—Women, and Moro Youth for Peace, marked the CAB signing anniversary with a psycho-social debriefing session among children evacuees in Maguindanao.


“It’s ironic that we observe the CAB’s anniversary in an evacuation center. With the peace pact, we thought we are saying goodbye to this feature of life in central Mindanao; but here we are in this situation all over again,” Ugay lamented.

“However, this situation all the more proves that there is still much to be done to make peace take root in the conflict-affected communities. So, we still push on,” Ugay explained.

Some 120,000 people have been displaced in Maguindanao due to the Armed Force’s all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) which is believed to have coddled Malaysian terrorist Marwan and his Filipino colleague Basit Usman.

Streaming back home

Several days ago, many families have started streaming back to their communities as the Armed Forces scaled down the intensity of its military operations.

The renewed offensives are an offshoot of the tragic Jan. 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that pitted police commandos with MILF elements in one battle scene, and BIFF elements in another. More than 60 were killed, among them police commandos, Moro rebels and civilians.

The Mamasapano incident has rocked the peace process with many legislators questioning the sincerity of the MILF to pursue peace, and threatening to scuttle the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that sought to establish a new autonomous entity that enjoy far greater political and economic governance powers.

“The Mamasapano tragedy had proven our vulnerability as a diverse society when deep respect and understanding of each other are still very fragile. Despite the advances, the current events are a stark reminder of the vulnerability of the peace process especially when we are still halfway done,” said a statement of peace building coalition Mindanao Peace Weavers (MPW).

Deepen humanity
“We mark it (CAB signing) not simply because a year had passed – but because a year gave us the chance to deepen our humanity. Hence, today, we draw strength in this journey on how we persevered and achieved the incremental gains of talking to each other all throughout the years,” it added.

MPW noted that one year on, “we are still trying to bounce back after a string of setbacks we faced as a people, as a country – from the circuitous route of legalization through the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), to the kind of legal scrutiny done by Congress as exemplified by some of its esteemed members who pounced the principals with issues in the BBL they can hang on to.”

But lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, spokesperson of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) minced no words in criticizing politicians who threaten to scuttle the peace process.

“As Christians and Mindanawons, we cannot afford to simply allow the politicians to determine the kind of future that we and our children will have in Mindanao. We cannot afford to take back the hope that the CAB offers to our people,” Arnado said in a commentary piece published in news site MindaNews.

“We cannot allow the call for peace in Mindanao to die in the hands of these senators, congressmen and bloodthirsty media. We need to stand and be counted in this major legislative work that will define our immediate future and the future of our children in Mindanao,” she added.

Arnado, who was convenor of the civilian-led Bantay Ceasefire, is currently Fellow of the Women Peacemakers Program of the Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.

“We have reached this far because we have people in Mindanao who refuse to become victims of war. The peace agreement is a product of painstaking advocacy work from war-ravaged communities by nameless and faceless individuals who have buried countless babies and loved ones,” Arnado emphasized.

“The peace agreement is alive today because the Muslims, Christians and Indigenous peoples have walked hand in hand to give birth to a peace agreement that will finally put a closure to the armed conflict. Now, that peace agreement is facing slow death in the hands of our politicians who largely represent the interests of the status quo,” she added.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 28, 2015.

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