Mindanao peace harbinger of new era

I read a news story about South Sudan. Warring political factions have resorted to excessive violence, sparing no one, not even patients in critical condition. They shot hospital patients dead and even razed an entire hospital to the ground. It was brutal, the doctors who were on duty, said.

Of course, tensions in Ukraine and between the US and Russia have escalated, reminding us all how fragile peace can be.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippine government is in the implementation phase of its peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF. President Benigno Aquino concluded a successful visit to Malaysia where he and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak discussed the unlimited potentials of Mindanao. The prime minister has accepted President Aquino’s invitation for a Manila visit at the end of the month to witness the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

For Nurkisa Alidain, a resident of Lamitan, Basilan, a just and lasting peace has long been overdue. Nur, 50, works as assistant to the provincial administrator in the provincial capital. She is a peace advocate who spends her free time educating people about the peace agreement. I asked Nur a lot of questions about life in Basilan. Just the mere mention of Basilan, I said, evokes fear as well as images of violence and terror. “Unfair,” she replied. Nur said that reports about kidnappings and violence in Basilan are grossly exaggerated. “I have seen Boracay. Our beaches are much better because you have the mountain and the sea, with clear waters and powdery sand,” Nur said. The bad reputation that has been attached to Basilan has scared away investors that could create job opportunities.

She said the conflict in Basilan was much worse during the martial law days, when her family was forced to stay in an evacuation camp due to incessant fighting between soldiers and Muslim rebels. “My mother only had 40 pesos in her wallet. We experienced lining up for relief goods at the evacuation center. My parents would leave the evacuation center at night to go back to our village when they need to get more clothes and supplies from our house. During those days, the soldiers were very much feared by the civilians,” Nur recalled.

Today, Nur said that she is no longer the frightened child gripped by fear at the sight of a soldier. The military has changed a lot, she said. With the signing of the GPH-MILF peace agreement, both sides are now partners for peace in Mindanao. A lot is riding on the success of the comprehensive peace agreement on the Bangsamoro. The key is in understanding the dark past of Mindanao and accompanying with prayers and hard work, its transition into a brighter, more stable future. The interest shown by Malaysia in helping develop Mindanao’s halal and Islamic banking industries and other countries as well, offers hope that soon this island-region will be the country’s portal to global trade.

One only needs to listen to stakeholders like Nur of Lamitan, Basilan to understand why the peace roadmap in Mindanao deserves everyone’s support. No one said that the way forward will be easy, but the journey will be lighter when all Filipinos share the burden of transition and transformation.

Arab Link: Mindanao peace harbinger of new era

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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