Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thank God, a Peace Agreement at Last between the Philippine Government and the MILF

Today the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will sign the peace agreement in Malacanang Palace. I am filled with joy and thanksgiving. Muslims and Christians can live in peace in Mindanao now and in the years to come. I offered a Thanksgiving Mass for this occasion. I am grateful to God and, of course, the peace panels of the government and the MILF and their principals for making this possible.  I am very happy and there are tears of joy in my eyes - this is a fulfillment of a dream and my advocacy.

I don't have any significant contribution to the peace process, but in my own little way I tried to do my own part as a priest, a cyclist and ultra-runner. I believed that the peace process can prosper with the support of ordinary people like you and me and no matter how small and insignificant our contribution it will be very helpful in the end. In 2000, I biked alone for peace across the Philippines (from Davao to Pagudpud) as President Estrada was starting his total-war policy. A couple of years later I helped organize the Panaw sa Kalinaw (Journey for Peace), a peace caravan consisting of Muslim and Christians from Davao to Cotabato in the midst of the armed clashes between the Philippine Army and the MILF. I joined the Fasting for Peace. I helped organize peace rallies in Davao. I joined the Silsilah Christian-Muslim Dialogue Movement. I joined the IPPF (Imam-Priests-Pastors Forum) and participated in various meetings, dialogue and consultations. I organized the annual bike for peace in Davao during the Mindanao Week of Peace (for nine consecutive years). I biked for peace around Central Mindanao in 2003, around Mindanao in 2006, and around the Philippines in 2008 (Davao-Aparri-Davao). I ran and walked for peace and the environment across Mindanao (400 km Davao to Iligan) in 2010 and on the Camino de Santiago from the French Pyrenees across the North of Spain. In 2011, I ran-walked for life and peace across the Philippines from Davao to Aparri. Today, with this peace agreement, all my efforts - no matter how insignificant- were not in vain. As we celebrate the peace agreement, we need to remember that the journey to peace continues. The basic law of the Bangsa Moro has still to be drafted. This will have to be approved by congress and submitted to a plebiscite. Thus, the support of the citizenry continues to be vital.

As we rejoice that a peace agreement has been signed, we have to remember that our peace advocacy continues. There cannot be a lasting peace in Mindanao and in various parts of the country for as long as the armed conflict between the Government and the CPP/NDF/NPA continues. Twenty-seven years ago, the peace talks with the NDF began and up to now little has been achieved. There is an impasse. The arrest of the top leaders of the CPP (Benito and Wilma Tiamzon) recently have led some to believe that the prospects for peace have dimmed. But we do not lose hope. Today's historic event is an inspiration and a challenge that a lasting peace is possible not only in Mindanao but the whole country. There is much to learn from the MILF-GPh peace process.

The CPP/NDF/NPA can adopt the pragmatism of the MILF and the other revolutionary movements all over the world. They should accept the reality that the prospect for military victory and seizure of state power is very remote, if not impossible. Their guerrilla force and mass base support have been significantly reduced. Their leaders are aging and many have been captured. On the other hand, the military cannot totally eradicate them. The NPA are still capable of mounting tactical offensives but without strategic value. The senseless killings will continue, there will be no victors - only victims.  The only realistic alternative is a negotiated peace settlement that will address the roots of the armed conflict - especially poverty.

I continue praying and hoping that the peace process between the Government and the NDF continues and I dream that someday soon, there will be another signing of a peace agreement in Malacanang. This time, Louie Jalandoni and Joma Sison will be there shaking hands with the president. For this to happen, the support and pressure coming from ordinary citizens, of various groups and movements, of the Catholic Church and other churches is necessary.