Mindanao prelates hopeful but vigilant

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

CATHOLIC Bishops in Mindanao believe that “continuing consultations with all stakeholders are necessary to bring the peace process forward.”

The bishops view the signing of the framework agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) in Malacañang on Monday as “vigilant optimism.”

In an emailed statement, the Catholic Bishops in Mindanao cited the entire island's experience when the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008 collapsed “due to its lack of transparency and certain provisions that were deemed unconstitutional.”


“In the aftermath of that rejection, we recall the efforts of the Bishops-Ulama Conference to sponsor a year-long series of multi-sectoral consultations to uncover the underlying factors for promoting a culture of peace in Mindanao,” reads the statement entitled “Towards Building a Just and Lasting Peace in Mindanao.”

Archbishops Antonio Ledesma (Cagayan de Oro), Jesus Dosado (Ozamiz), Orlando Quevedo; Bishops Guillermo Afable (Digos), Colin Bagaforo (Cotabato), Edwin de la Peña (Marawi), Jose Cabantan (Malaybalay), Elenito Galido (Iligan), Dinualdo Gutierrez (Marbel), Martin Jumoad (Isabela); and Monsignor Cris Manongas signed the emailed statement dated October 14.

“It is a good start for further detailed discussion for peace in Mindanao,” Cabantan said Monday.

The Mindanao prelates offer the six values that constitutes the people's platform for peace in the island from Muslim, Lumad, Catholic and Protestant participants in the consultations of its peace initiative dubbed Konsult Mindanao.

“A formal peace agreement is not the end of peace-building. Rather, it is just the beginning of much hard work in concretizing the meaning of Sincerity, Security, Sensitivity, Solidarity, Spirituality and Sustainability in our various communities in Mindanao,” the statement reads.

Several government officials have declared their full support to the signing of the agreement.

Cagayan de Oro City Councilor Ian Mark Nacaya said in the process of executing the agreement, all sectors-Muslims, Christians and Lumads must be given the opportunity to express their sides and that the decision of the majority must prevail.

“Now that both side of the party has finally agreed on a common goal, which is peace in Mindanao, I hope that the agreement will bring lasting peace to the island,” Nacaya said.

He said if the agreement brings economic alleviation and peace prosperity that have been deprived to Mindanao for so many years, “then let us join hands and give peace a chance by supporting the framework agreement.”

City Councilor Adrian Barba also said he hopes that the peace agreement will bring an edge, especially to the peace and order of Mindanao.

City Councilor Edgar Cabanlas also expressed hopes that this will bring a new beginning for a “peaceful and prosperous Mindanao.”

Regional State Prosecutor Jaime Umpa said the agreement hopes to usher a possible solution to the seemingly unending problem involving peace and order in Mindanao.

“I just hope this will also address thoroughly issues on corruption, neglect and poor governance, which are the root causes of poverty and exploitation in this part of the country,” Umpa told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro.

Misamis Oriental Vice Governor Norris Babiera said the formal signing of the agreement is the right step toward peace in Mindanao.

“I support the framework and hope let us give peace a chance,” Babiera said.

He stressed that for the agreement to prosper, everybody, especially the people in Mindanao, must do their share to ensure the success of the peace accord.

Provincial Board member Jesus Jardin also hopes for a lasting peace in the country, particularly in Mindanao, with the signing of the agreement.

Jardin said the framework is just a first step towards lasting peace as he acknowledged the many “hitches” that came out along the course of the negotiation.

“But if we don’t take the first step, nothing will happen. Remember that the cost of the conflict is the lives of the people,” he said.

Local business leaders have also hailed the singing of the agreement, calling it a breakthrough in the peace process and giving hope for the peaceful closure of the protracted conflict in the island.

“We welcome this development with optimism that finally, Mindanao will be able to realize its vast development potentials and make this island truly a haven for flourishing businesses,” Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Industries (COCI) president Jerome Soldevilla said in a phone interview.

Local industrialist Elmer Francisco also said in a phone interview that “every step towards peace is always good not only for business but for our country as a whole.”

“But that agreement must be inclusive and binding for both the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), including all other (Moro) factions. Otherwise, we would just have a similar situation only that MILF is the one with the government and the other side would be the Maoist rebels,” he said.

According to President Benigno Aquino III, the framework agreement is a roadmap for establishing a new autonomous region to address the grievances and claims of the Bangsamoro people.

Aquino said establishing the Bangsamoro political entity will go through the full process of legislation in Congress and will be subject to ratification through a plebiscite.

Monday’s signing was welcomed by the Muslim people in Mindanao.

MILF leader Al Haj Murad Ibrahim said in his message during the signing that their perseverance prevails over those who wanted to perpetuate war in Mindanao.

“Negotiative political settlement is the most civilized and practical way to solve the Moro problem,” Ibrahim said.

He also appealed to the leaders of the MNLF to support the framework agreement.

Women Sectoral representative Samira Gutoc-Tomawis of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) Legislative Assembly said in a text message that the signing of the framework agreement should be seen as beneficial not only for the Bangsamoro but for the entire Filipino people.

“As a Mindanaon youth and woman, I have been blessed to witness a grand curve and confident turn to recognizing the Bangsamoro. However, as a youth, we must think, act and be heard in the drafting of the future,” Tomawis said.

She said the signing comes as a timely juncture in Philippine history “where openness is so heartfelt.”

“It is a gateway to opportunity for trade and idea exchange,” Gutoc Tomawis added.

Prof. Nur Misurari said in an interview Monday that the signing of the agreement will be tantamount to a death sentence to the MILF and a brazen surrender to the Philippine colonial government.

But Annar Upahon of the Bangsamoro Youth and Anak Mindanao said they are thankful to Misuari because the beauty of the framework agreement was driven and inspired from the failed experiment of Armm.

Upahon said new peace pact will strengthen the previous peace deal with the MNLF of Prof Nur Misuari.

“Nirespeto ng framework agreement ang naunang peace deal with the MNLF kaya walang dapat ipangamba ang MNLF, lalo na si Prof. Misuari,” Upahon said.

Armm is created through Republic Act 6734 in 1989. The MNLF then settles for autonomy in 1996 when it signed peace deal with the government of then president Fidel Ramos.

Meanwhile, Mayor Loreto Cabaya of Aleosan, North Cotabato, said the big difference between the 2008 GPH-MILF MOA-AD and the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is that they were consulted.

Cabaya said he and five other town mayors in North Cotabato – where 39 villages that voted “yes” to inclusion in Armm are now part of the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro, the entity that will replace Armm by 2016 – are supportive of the agreement because they have been part of the process, unlike in 2008.

Four years earlier, residents in Aleosan were reported to beef up their firepower to defend themselves from the attacks mounted by members of the MILF under then commander Amiril Umbra Kato, following the aborted signing of the MOA-AD.

Cabaya, head of the Mindanao cluster of the League of Municipalities, told MindaNews that government peace panel members and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process had conducted a series of consultation among Mindanao leaders on the GPH-MILF peace process.

“We still need to go down to the people, in the grassroots level, to inform them of the content of the Framework Agreement as we can see the sincerity of our President and the government panel,” he said.

Cabaya said the 2008 experience, the conflict on MOA-AD, had given them lessons, one of which was the “lack of consultation among the people during the drafting of the agreement” and “the panel members were even secretive about the signing.”

The signing itself was not a secret as the MOA-AD had been initialed on July 27, 2008 also in Kuala Lumpur and the signing date, August 5, was announced.

The contents of the agreement, however, were not made public until the day of the signing.

“After 2008, I made a research by asking Muslim communities. They themselves have no knowledge of the provisions in the MOA-AD. They were only told that there was a signing of it and after that they would claim the lands that were being returned to them,” he said.

He added that in MOA-AD, all barangays were listed and yet it was not explained very well to the people.

“That is why the people now are concerned that they might be included in the territory of Bangsamoro without even knowing it,” Cabaya said. “Now we see the openness and transparency of the GPH panel to the leaders in Mindanao, especially in North Cotabato, although kulang pa ang konsultasyon sa baba.”

He also noted one good thing about the framework agreement: there is an assurance that it will not be signed unless there is enough consultation among leaders, and that there will be a plebiscite.

The mayors of the towns mentioned in the framework agreement met last Thursday and manifested their support provided that there will be no coercion or intimidation in the conduct of the plebiscite and the people are given the freedom to choose what they want.

“We consider this as a solution to our long conflict in Mindanao. Let’s not be ahead of this as this is far from over because the details of the agreement are not yet done. But, we hope that this will become our road to peace here in Mindanao,” Cabaya said.

In the framework agreement, the core territory of Bangsamoro will include villages in the municipalities of Kabacan, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap of North Cotabato that voted for the inclusion in the extended Armm.

In 2001, these municipalities had 208 barangays, 39 of which voted for inclusion, including three from Aleosan.

Cabaya said most of the barangays in Aleosan are adopting a wait-and-see situation.

He said they will first observe the performance of the Bangsamoro entity before deciding to be included in the territory.

Cabaya added that there is still a plebiscite after the Basic Law that will govern the Bangsamoro will be passed by Congress, so the barangays can oppose if they do not want to be part of the Bangsamoro.

“Although we respect their decision in 2001 for voting yes for expansion of Armm, maybe their decision will be different now as they have seen the development in their livelihood. Same is true maybe with other localities, in Kabacan, Pikit, Midsayap and Pigkawayan,” he said.

The framework agreement states that all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the process of delimitation of the Bangsamoro.

However, Cabaya said there are still other issues that are not clear in the framework agreement such as the inclusion of barangays that are not contiguous to Armm. (Nicole J. Managbanag/Abigail Chee Kee Malalis/Annabelle L. Ricalde/Mindanews)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 16, 2012.

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