Do you see a glass half-full or half-empty? For the peace talks in Mindanao, a lot depends on whose table that glass happens to be. If you talk to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government (GPH) is a prescription to war in Mindanao. A faction of the Moro National Liberation Front that identified with Chairman Nur Misuari has found common cause with the BIFF and has called for “Kosovo-style” of democratic assemblies against the latest peace pact.
Peace is not without its “enemies” because its virtues have recently been closely associated with the MILF, an 11,000-strong rebel group in Mindanao that has successfully concluded what shall soon be known as a comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro. MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has repeatedly said that it was only by accident that he headed the panel. The peace agreements that have been signed with the Philippine government are for the benefit of all stakeholders in the Bangsamoro, Iqbal said.
Both the GPH and MILF panels are also consistent and firm in saying that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that both have signed does not abrogate the 1996 Final Peace Agreement signed by the Moro National Liberation Front with the Philippine government. The MILF said that it entered into peace negotiations with the Philippine government to strengthen the FPA and not to abolish it. “The good parts of the 1996 FPA will be included in the basic Bangsamoro law that we are trying to write,” chairman Iqbal who also heads the Bangsamoro Transition Commission tasked with writing the draft law, explained.
Unfortunately, the fear that history would be unjustly and wrongly re-written because of these accelerated developments on the peace front, would always be there. Constitutional issues can and will surely be raised, but these would be settled by the Supreme Court. Soon, Congress will deliberate on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law and seek experts to help them out. For every opposition raised, a safety net appears to ensure its resolution.
The role of the Senate and the House of Representatives in putting together a fair, inclusive and pragmatic Bangsamoro Basic Law that reflects the agreements signed by the GPH and MILF panels is pivotal in our journey to peace. There will be time enough for us to see the blossoming of peace and development initiatives, in and outside of Congress, as the law is being discussed.
What cannot be denied is that all pieces are falling into place and at no time in recent Philippine history has there been such broad international and national support for a peace agreement in Mindanao.
Hope has its own adrenaline rush. The doomsayers and pessimists will eventually wilt in the company of so many do-gooders and peace advocates that have joined the peace bandwagon.
After all, how could one, in conscience, side with the BIFF when it uses child soldiers in the frontlines of war? And who can forget how elements belonging to the MNLF-Misuari wing laid siege to Zamboanga City, leaving thousands of city residents homeless? In contrast, here you have the MILF signing an agreement that would decommission all weapons with the help of an independent group of foreign and national experts.
So how should the glass be seen? How should peace be defined? These are questions that even the highly influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) must reflect on. The OIC must step in and serve as mentor to both the MNLF and MILF on how the cause of peace can be best served through dialogues and partnerships. With support coming from all nook and corners of the world, isn’t it time for the Bangsamoro leaders to unite behind the cause of peace?