Peace in the forgotten land-A A +A
By Jun Ledesma
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
I GREW up in a place where peace once blossomed like no other. My father who loved the smell of the earth pioneered in Cotabato still undivided by the political powers of the centrist government. The place where we settled hardly had any inhabitant. Our nearest neighbor, is a Muslim who dwells near the periphery of Liguasan marsh several kilometers away from my father’s farm.
Each Sunday and Thursday, “Otic” would pass by our nipa hut and I remember how he would beam and reveal his beetle nut-tinted set of teeth. He always wears a colorful turban and carry a “tabas”, an arching blade with a long handle used to cut grass along the path and protection against snakes. Sundays and Thursdays were market days in Midsayap and people from all over town and nearby towns would converge to buy essentials like salt, sugar, dried fish, and farm implements. It’s opportune time too to meet people, sharing information about harvests, deaths in the family, the new arrivals from Luzon or Visayas and who’s getting married to whom. Lumads, Christians and Muslims huddle together smoking “linikit” cured and thinly sliced tobacco cigarettes or the aromatic lumboy leaf. This bucolic scenes of my youth in the hinterland of Midsayap was altered later in the 1970s. Otic is long dead from malaria or was it tuberculosis. People would still pass alongside our now concrete and wooden house. This time however, the passersby no longer carry “tabas” but Garands, Armalites and rifle grenade launchers.
Not for long Cotabato has to be divided among the vassals of the powerful elite in Metro Manila who control politics in this country. They acted as proxies for the politicians and in exchange new provinces, municipalities and barrios were created as their political own domains and fiefdoms. The once benign village leaders were given arms and money so they will maintain their hold in these territories for their political perpetuity. Why do you think the likes of Andal Ampatuan and his brood turned to bestiality? The Ampatuans were respected Moro leaders who stood against foreign invaders but they caved-in to the opiate of power where they were lured into by their masters in Metro Manila.
In his time, Nur Misuari, a Muslim scholar, had seen the backwardness of the traditional local and regional leadership and the emergence of a convoluted system that is diluted with the devious agenda of those who controlled the centrist government. The Moro National Liberation Front was a moribund outfit raised from on its last legs by the anti-Marcos forces which offered autonomy if they joined the rebellion. Nur, who was then in Saudi Arabia nursing his frustration, came back to quickly gather a spent force. But it was a force just the same. True to the commitment of the new centurions in Malacanang, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was enshrined in the Cory constitution.
The Cory government may have been sincere with its pledge but the MNLF failed in delivering even the basic services that the ARMM constituents needed. The leadership of the ARMM government was swallowed by the corrupt system and by those who held influences in the seat of power in Manila who, under a new and supposed to be enlightened administration, still continued to control and perpetuate themselves in power.
It is not the fault of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that they distanced themselves from the MNLF. In the words of Pres. Noynoy Aquino: “ARMM is a failed experiment”.
In desperation the MILF waged its own armed struggle for independence, an agenda which was certain to fail. But they attempted anyway. It was however unfortunate that the large majority who has nothing to do at all with the armed struggle were uprooted and displaced from their place of abode and sources of livelihood. The MILF camps became haven of terrorist elements and kidnap-for-ransom syndicates victimizing innocent civilians regardless of whether they are Christians, Lumads or Muslims. Worse, there are segments in the ranks of the MILF who had pledged to continue with their futile struggle. Umbra Kato for example waged a pillage in remote Christian and Moro villages apparently to telegraph to the world that they are a belligerent force to reckon with. But they have lost their cause as quickly as they had lost their mass base.
It is a significant development that the MILF finally agreed to craft an agreement which will serve as a framework for the second level of peace negotiation. This simply means that the MILF and the government have finally hurdled most of the contentious issues that temporarily paralyzed the peace talks. We are not privy to most of these but that is not the important thing for now. What is important for now is that there are definitive courses of action that are mutually agreed upon and that there are realistic objectives that give a clear perspective of what the Bangsamoro Region is going to be. The framework defines the more rational extent of the territory of Bangsamoro. This corrects the insane provision in the draft Memo of Agreement on Ancestral Domain crafted by the Presidential Adviser for Peace, ex-Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, and his peace negotiator Rodolfo Garcia and the MILF, which drew the territorial expanse of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity to include all of Mindanao and many parts in Visayas. The High Court of course promptly declared the crazy, if not idiotic, idea patently unconstitutional.
To the credit of RP Chief negotiator Marvic Leonin and his MILF counterpart Mohagher Iqbal they have finally arrived at a more sensible terms, modalities and definition of territories.
The framework agreement is clear with the peace objectives. It’s akin to the mountaineers quest to reach to the apex of Mt. Apo. I remembered when in 1964 I joined a group of five to scale the mount. The promontory of the mountain is clear from as far as Davao City. Our group knew that a few months before we decided to climb there were students from Ateneo who perished when they were swallowed by quagmires in a lake near the mountain top. But we had our resolve to achieve our goal: reach the summit no matter what. It was not an easy quest as we have to climb boulders, ford a river, crawled on top trunks of fallen giant mahoganies, cut our way through vines and vegetation that were home to blood sucking leeches. Now and then the peak of Mt. Apo is visible but as we feel and hope that we are almost there the more realize that we still have to climb more mountains and there are more challenges to hurdle in our ascent. One of our team member fell as we struggle over a steep crevice. But we carried him and we moved on. When we reached Lake Linaw we were careful with our every step for this was the place where the tribesmen had warned us where the quicksand are. We rested and then contemplated how torturous was the way up to the crest of Mt. Apo. Even as the apex of the mount was already clearly visible and just a breath away the path was still replete with wild berries the leaves of which are needle sharp. But the tiny fruits are sweet. But sweeter still is the feeling of achievement when we set foot on our objective.
Peace is almost within our reach as Mt. Apo is within the sight of many who wish to have their quest, but like the path to the apex of the mount, the road to peace is replete with so many imponderable tests. But we just have to persevere and before we know it peace and reconciliation have been achieved.
And the days of my youth in the quiet hinterlands of Midsayap will be relieved again.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 18, 2012.