Historic event for Mindanao

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014


IT'S a historic event especially for Mindanaoans, and it can happen only under correct circumstances, like when the person at the helm of the government is respectable.

I am not saying that the peace pact signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is a done deal. There are still hurdles along the way.

But the fact that the MILF has agreed to a gradual decommissioning of its guns is an important final step in the historic process of ending the rebel group’s armed struggle.

There’s no assurance that a peace agreement between the government and the MILF would also end the decades-old Moro rebellion in Mindanao.

Other armed groups may fill the vacuum, but there’s no denying that the MILF is not only the biggest rebel group in Mindanao today but is also getting support from some Islamic countries.

The MILF’s precursor, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari, entered into an agreement in 1996 with the administration of then president Fidel V. Ramos. That agreement led to the formation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

But Misuari and his group failed miserably in using the chance given to them to realize their professed goal of improving the lot of their Muslim brethren. Areas under the ARMM remained mired in poverty, allowing the MILF, which began as a faction of the MNLF, to grow rapidly. Now it is the MILF’s chance to do better than Misuari and the MNLF.

If the gradual decommissioning of MILF’s firearms is completed after legal impediments to the creation of a new Bangsa Moro entity are overcome, then the ways of peace will be proven once more as being superior in battling rebellion than armed might.

This has to be said because there are still sectors who are romanticizing what Joseph Estrada did during his short-lived presidency. His all-out war did result in government forces overrunning MILF-held areas like Camp Abubakar. But it didn’t end the MILF revolt.

***

Watching the GPH and MILF gradually move towards the successful conclusion of a peace agreement reminds me of another attempt to settle politically another high profile armed rebellion. I am referring to the peace talks between the government of then president Corazon Aquino and the National Democratic Front (NDF) in the latter part of 1986.

I was a close observant of the talks and saw these unfurl before my very eyes. Unlike in the talks between the government and Muslim rebels, that peace negotiation was localized, meaning that rebel elements in Cebu held their own talks with representatives of the Provincial Government.

The peace negotiations failed because of the lack of sincerity of both sides. While Cory may have been honest in her intentions, she was presiding over a coalition government some factions of which moved to scuttle the effort. The NDF, on the other hand, was at the peak of its strength and was tied to an ideology that prefers revolution over reforms.

But before the talks were scuttled in the early part of 1987, I, as a young “firebrand” at that time, experienced many highs.

I remember that rally in front of the Gaisano Metro in Colon St. when negotiators on the NDF side were introduced. Darkness had fallen when, for the first time in a gathering of such magnitude in Cebu, a red flag with the distinctive hammer and sickle in the middle was waved. Armed city partisans (known as sparrows) joined the activity.

Then there was that December 1986 press conference in a village in one of Cebu City’s hinterland barangays. Media people from the lowlands were brought to an unidentified village blindfolded in some stretches.

The presscon was held in a basketball court with the same flag hung below one of the backboards. The activity featured a presentation by a platoon of the regular unit of the New People’s Army (NPA) and some teams of armed city partisans, complete with their long and short firearms.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 29, 2014.

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