Peace and pieces

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

THE Philippine government is set to file its formal pleading, otherwise known in international law as a Memorial, against Beijing at an Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at The Hague in the Netherlands today, subjecting the latter to international legal scrutiny over increasingly tense South China seas in a historic move of defiance.

Philippines says that both the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Reef lie within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). China says those lie within their territory.

It is a classic case of territorialism that is not alien to us.


For the most part, the famed Filipino hospitality is complemented by our passion for our territorial rights. This is best illustrated by the case of the Moros against the national government.

First, the MNLF signed the 1976 Tripoli Agreement with the government, and when it smashed the deal, the MILF and the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was born.

Next, after years of armed struggle, peace talks resumed between both parties when they recognized the need for peace in Mindanao. However, these have been failed attempts at mending ties until the 15th of October in the year 2012 when the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was signed, formalizing the replacement of ARMM to the Bangsamoro.

We Pinoys are fond of talking about peace. Likewise, we also have an affinity with pieces.

In the case of the national government and ARMM and China, peace in Mindanao comes with the pieces of territorial claims the MILF has over several regions and peace in the South China Sea is at the price of backing down to one of our country’s biggest trading partners. Otherwise, an all-out war will bathe Mindanao in the blood of Christians and Muslims alike. Otherwise, China will isolate the Philippines from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

I have long since accepted that disputes between countries and groups like the MILF are not solved by a “good talking to” alone. After all, if it does not solve the rift caused by backbiting among the “barkada” how can it mend the ties between nations? In one way or another, the “peace and pieces” culture will make its way to the agreement in the guise of negotiation. I once encountered a Facebook status that said, “I will only be at peace if you give me a piece of your heart.” Talk about true love.

On the other hand, who am I to judge? In the seventeen years that I have observed how people work, I have come to the conclusion that we have different ways of making peace. For some, peace is the absence of war and hatred. Others say peace is finding a balance between two opposing forces, the yin and the yang. A lot of people stand by the latter and choose to do a classic “heart-to-heart” to come to an understanding. But for me, I am much more inclined to believe in the former. If only memories of misunderstandings could be erased and life had a replay button, our lives would be so much easier.

Undoubtedly, the road to peace is not a taxi ride along the highway but a series of headaches from one PUJ to another (the stench of chickens and sari-sari store goodies permeating the air of one jeep and the other heavily perfumed with the aroma of freshly wet armpits).

The Memorial our government is filing against China is a sucker punch in the face of bigger, stronger guns. And there is no guarantee in the life span of the Bangsamoro agreement. In other words, we are diving into the Bermuda Triangle in two-piece bikinis. But the thing about government and action is that it is better than nothing. It is better than coming unprepared for a super typhoon.

As the late Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “The pursuit of peace and progress cannot end in a few years in either victory or defeat. The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 30, 2014.


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