As we celebrate the Christmas season and the coming of the New Year which the Church marks as the World Day of Peace, we note the absence of peace in our land- especially in Mindanao. The cycle of violence and war continues.
Since the breakdown of the peace negotiations a few months ago, rogue units of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continue to carry out attacks against civilian and military targets in Central Mindanao. In response, government troops are going after them. Air Force planes have been bombing areas where these MILF units are believed to be hiding. Civilians have been caught in the crossfire.
In another front, the New People’s Army (NPA) have been increasing tactical offensives not just in Mindanao but in other areas of Luzon and Visayas. As government military operations are conducted in the “red areas”, more civilians are evacuating. Leaders of legal militant organizations suspected of being leftist fronts have been abducted and executed by suspected military units.
What is happening at present is similar to the situation that prevailed over twenty five years ago. The end of the Marcos dictatorial regime in EDSA I, brought hope that peace will finally come. But the peace negotiations broke down between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) under the Aquino administration. In 1996, under the Ramos administration, a peace agreement was reached between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Peace talks with the MILF started. The peace process with the NDF was revived. With the election of Estrada, the “macho” president adopted an “all-out war” policy. These peace talks were abandoned. The EDSA II which deposed Estrada and brought Gloria M. Arroyo to power once again renewed hope that peace will finally reign. The peace negotiations were again revived. But these could not be sustained. Now near the end of her term there is still no peace. Why is it difficult to achieve peace? There are many factors.
A major factor is President Gloria Macapaga Arroyo herself. She is not serious about pursuing peace negotiations. Coming up with a peace settlement with the MILF and the NDF is not a priority of her administration. Her main concern is staying in power and extending her reign beyond her term of office. All her acts can be seen from this perspective - even the MOA-AD which requires charter change. She lacks credibility and political will. Majority of the people question her motives and do not support her peace efforts. The MILF and NDF do not trust her to abide by whatever agreement they can reach. What she really wants is to defeat the NPA by 2010 and to neutralize the MILF. The military operations carried out have affected civilians. Under an Arroyo Government we cannot expect peace to prevail. She has become a lame-duck president and time is running out.
The MILF central leadership has not been able to maintain control and discipline within its rank. It has failed to hold the units of Commanders Bravo and Kato accountable for the atrocities against civilians. The MILF will only come back to the negotiating table if the GRP sign the MOA-AD which has been rejected by the majority and by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, more radical elements have emerged demanding an independent Islamic republic and suspected of engaging in terrorist activities.
The NDF - led by the CPP with its military arm- the NPA continues to hold on to its Maoist dogma and strategy of people's war. Insisting on the dictum that political power comes from the barrel of the gun, the NDF regards the armed struggle as the primary means to seize state power and impose radical change in society. While the NDF is appealing for the resumption of peace negotiations, it considers the peace process in tactical rather than strategic terms in view of the primacy of armed struggle.
Congress continues to be dominated by landlords and big business whose primary concern is to protect their vested interests and the president. This congress has failed to pass enabling laws that will implement the anti-dynasty law. It has failed to come up with genuine agrarian reform law and extended the present law for six month but made it useless by making it voluntary. This same congress protected President Arroyo from impeachment proceedings for charges of corruption and abuse of power. This is the same congress that is trying to convert itself as a constituent assembly to change the constitution that will do away with the nationalist provisions, abolish term limits, change the system of government that will allow the president to perpetuate her rule.
This congress is incapable of bringing about justice and alleviating poverty in our country. With this kind of congress it will be difficult to convince those who are trying to change society through armed struggle to lay down their arms. Frustration with this political system will continue drive young people to the hills.
Another factor why peace remains elusive is a very weak peace constituency. There is no critical mass of people actively working for peace. The peace movement has not grown and expanded There are only a handful of individuals and groups who are actively engaged in peace advocacy. Activities organized by these groups are poorly attended. The groups are not united. Some of them have been accused by the military of being sympathetic to the cause of the MILF or the NDF. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has from time to time came up with statements appealing for end to war and continue the peace process. The Bishops-Ulama Conference has also been actively involved in peace advocacy. But their statements have often been ignored. Many of the individual bishops, priests and religious are not concerned about peace advocacy. There have been cases of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) and local grassroots communities involved in peace-advocacy and in forming Zones of Peace but these have not been replicated.
So the various factors mentioned above can explain why peace remains elusive in our country. Peace remains a dream. Around this time we pray and hope that the New Year will be more peaceful. The prospect for peace in the years to come is not bright. Yet we continue hoping. What should we hope for?
We hope that a new breed of national and local leaders will emerge, especially with the elections in 2010. Enough of corrupt, self-serving leaders, without principles, convictions and vision. Never again to presidents like Marcos, Macapagal-Arroyo or Estrada. No to presidents whose only qualification is their popularity, wealth and electability. We expect our leaders to have the credibility and political will to come up with a negotiated peace settlement with the various groups. They should be able to address the roots of violence and armed conflict. We need leaders whose primary concern is not staying in power or enriching themselves but the good of all, especially the majority who are poor. Their primary concern should be how to bring about justice, peace, and development in our land. We need leaders who realize that a military solution to the insurgency problem is costly and ineffective.
We hope that the CPP/NPA/NDF will realize that transforming Philippine society through armed struggle or people’s war is an impossible dream. After 40 years of fighting, their military capability and mass base remain insignificant. In fact, they have not grown or expanded, but have dwindled. They can carry out tactical offensives against soft targets but are not capable of reaching the strategic offensive stage. They have lost so many brave comrades over the years. They cannot expect a critical mass of people to support the “protracted people’s war.” People are simply tired of all the violence and of war. It is high time to abandon the Maoist dogma and come up with new paradigms in transforming society. The peace negotiations should be seen from a strategic framework like what revolutionaries in South Africa , El Salvador and Northern Ireland have done.
We hope that the MILF will be able to punish erring commanders, control their units and prevent them from committing further atrocities against the civilian population. We hope that they will realize that carving out an independent Islamic republic in Mindanao is an impossible dream. They have to accept the reality that Mindanao is now the home of the Muslims, Christians and Lumads. The signing of the MOA-AD should not be the precondition for the resumption of the peace negotiations. Rather, the MOA-AD can be the working document from which both parties can continue negotiating until they agree which provisions are acceptable to all and which are not. Areas where Christians and Lumads are the majority should not be included in the proposed BJE. In different circumstances, when Arroyo is no longer president, the proposal for changing the constitution to shift to a federal form of government can be more acceptable.
We hope that a time will come when congress will truly become the house of the representatives of the people – and not of the landowning and business elite. It will be a congress that is capable of passing laws that will truly benefit the majority and that will bring about peace, justice and progress in the land. It will truly be independent from the president yet will work with the president for crafting legislations beneficial to all. It will be a congress where those belonging to various ideologies will have a chance to pursue their programs that will benefit their people.
This will require a change in the political culture. This will mean changing the way we Filipinos elect our public officials – not by their wealth and popularity but by their competence, integrity and spirit of service. This means that elected officials change the way they perceive their office – not as a means for self-enrichment, power and domination. This means doing away with patronage politics.
We hope that the peace constituency and movement will expand. More and more people will expressly reject violence and war, imbibe the culture of life and peace, and will actively be involved in peace advocacy. We hope that communities at the grassroots – Christians and Muslims, Basic Ecclesial Communities – will be involved in establishing zones of peace. This will require the leadership and support of the CBCP, each bishop, each priest and religious in collaboration with other religious leaders – belonging to other Christian dominations and Muslims. This also means working with civil society groups and organizations.
Peace is elusive but it is possible. There is always hope and we should not stop working for peace.