JR Lopez Gonzales 10:38 PM 0
Living here in Mindanao, I see events unfold with my very eyes which all the more made me realize how important this issue is. Over the years, insurrections and skirmishes taint our mountains. And these wars did nothing but watered the land with crimson blood and took the lives of the rebels, the soldiers, and the civilians.
In 2008, I volunteered to go to war-ravaged towns in Lanao del Norte days only after the towns were attacked by rebels. It was a horrible sight: houses were burned, and townspeople were displaced to the evacuation centers. This same feeling of grief gripped also me last year when I visited Barangay Rio Hondo, in the infamous “Zamboanga City Siege”. It has been estimated that the conflict for the past four decades has already resulted to about 150,000 casualties. Filipinos are fighting their fellowmen – this has to stop.
|In college when I was a youth volunteer for the distribution of relief goods in war-ravaged towns in 2008.|
But come to think of it, peace has always been something that both the Christian migrant-settlers and Muslims wanted. I remember what Associate Solicitor General Karl Miranda told me last year. He narrated to me that during the months before the infamous “all-out-war” of the Estrada Administration in 2001, he and some government statesmen, went to Camp Abu-Bakr in Maguindanao.
|The front part of Sta. Barbara Elementary School in central Zamboanga City is tattered by bullets from the siege.|
And what struck him was that when they went there, top MILF officials hugged them and welcomed them in peace. A question lingered in his mind: why is there conflict if both of the parties’ ultimate goal is peace? But if we all wanted peace, why has it become so elusive in Mindanao?
That is why the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), last Wednesday, is such a historic moment. Accordingly, the structure is different from the ‘debased’ ARMM. The new agreement provides for a bigger assembly lead by a Chief Minister not popularly voted but by the Assembly. Other changes are also regarding the wealth-sharing and Bangsamoro having its own police force. A more devolved tax system will also be given shape. But of all these features, I believe that the most important result of this is that it promotes lasting peace.
|Muslim Filipinos in Manila celebrating the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro last Thursday.|
But actually, the signing of such comprehensive agreement may yet be the easy part. The true challenge is to provide Filipino Muslims the fruits of good governance. If the new entity remains to be a mere writing where the same dynasts rule, I fear that it would not lead to a lasting peace.
Leadership, particularly getting better leaders, is part of the solution. So will capacity-building and institution-building. I believe that a new breed of Muslim leaders, visionaries, and intellectuals will be the catalyst for change. And ultimately, as long as the conditions at the grassroots remain the same, real peace will never be achieved.
We need to recreate the “culture of peace”. We need to wipe out our baseless prejudices and instead have a tolerant mindset towards people of other ethnicities. We can focus on what is important, try to understand each other, and find our common ground – instead of looking on where we differ. If we strive to treat other people like a brother, treating each other justly and fairly, there would be no conflict and the rest follows.
Our country, like a human person, is an integrated whole. When one part of the human body is sick, the rest suffer. On a similar note, if Mindanao remains mired in conflict, then any aspirations for the Philippines’ long-term economic and social development well remain as castles in the air. Without a sense of Filipino nationhood; we would not succeed.
While it is true that the future remains to be uncertain, I believe that the only choice for us is peace. That is why I am supportive of this current progress on the Bangsamoro. That is why I am still hopeful for a peaceful Mindanao. And that is why I would like to see things unfold for the betterment of my fellow Filipinos in this lifetime.