Monday, March 19, 2012

Opening statement of Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF Peace Panel, during the 26th GPH-MILF Peace Talks held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from March 19-21, 2012.

The Clear Path Without Branches

         We are now in the last month of the first quarter of the year 2012, the timeline for signing the comprehensive compact between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) which our honorable counterpart from the GPH had boldly claimed sometime in 2011. Honestly, we were fascinated by such boldness, which we know is very much possible if the Aquino administration is really committed to solve the age-old Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao, following his “Matuwid Na Daan” or “Straight Path” policy, which I solemnly hope is the “Right Path”. 

Why I say this is possible in a straight path policy of any just or rightly-guided leader, if we view this policy in the light of the Islamic principles of “Siratal mustaquim”. In the daily prayers of Muslims, they recite the Surah Al-Fatiha, 17 times in five obligatory prayers and at least 17 in optional prayers, which they solemnly ask for guidance to the straight path. This is the first chapter of the Qur'an, which has seven verses that are all prayers for Allah's guidance, and for stressing on His Lordship and Mercy. 

Siratal Mustaquim is the clear path without branches, according to the language of the Qur’an. Hence the Qur’an would describe the honest person as being straight and the wicked person as being crooked, which includes one who does not fulfill promises and commitments made with fellow human beings. 

It is on this premise that I am hopeful that under the administration of President Aquino the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao will finally be put to rest.  It is also on this premise that I believe our honorable counterpart in the GPH would deal with us in straight-forward manner; meaning, what has been committed, as a product of honest discussion, will be pursued and followed sincerely, including signing it without delay. From it we can move forward with much trust and confidence, as we confront the most contentious issues of the negotiation.

Surely and without doubt, the comprehensive compact will not be signed now or perhaps even in April, despite the claim of the honorable Secretary Teresita “Ging” Deles-Quintos, banking on “miracle” to happen. The greater fear is that we might not even sign it at all if we are not firm on our resolve to push hard in our negotiation. Sad to note, however, that within the first two years of the Aquino administration, we have not signed anything of great consequence that we can show to our people and the world that indeed there is big happening in the current peace negotiation. I am afraid that we might not be as productive as compared to the times of Secretary Silvestre Afable III, Secretary Rodolfo Garcia, and Ambassador Rafael Seguis, notwithstanding the fact that we have a counterpart in the GPH which is led by a brilliant lawyer and a dean of law at that.

Honestly speaking, despite the stark picture of what is really happening in the negotiation, Central Mindanao provinces are dotted with placards and streamers, obviously coming from the military, proclaiming for the imminent coming of peace in Mindanao. While we congratulate the military for this support of peace in Mindanao; in fact, it is also our clamor, we are also perplexed no end, because such excessive building up of public expectation, will have serious backlash if at the end, there will be no signing. I don’t know why the military is in such frenzy for proclaiming that peace is forthcoming in Mindanao. We do not question their motive, but perhaps there is a communication gap between those in charge of the negotiation and those on the ground. I do not want to view it as a deliberate act for some special effects of unknown reason. Unless we succeed in the current negotiation, this one-sided portrayal of the positive side of the negotiation will only create frustration amongst our people and the possible negative backlash is unimaginable.

Up till today, I hope that the Aquino administration is still pursuing the first best option, which is to sign an agreement with the MILF, and the second best option, which is merely to reform the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is not being pursued by the government in replacement of the negotiated political settlement of the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao. And clearly if the first is the option of the government, then we can expect seriousness in the current peace talks. But if the second is now the option, then it is very easy to see. Expect commitment made to be changed randomly.

Lastly, it is perhaps of interests to you that we share of our historic trip to Rome, Italy from March 5-8 upon the invitation of the Community of Sant'Egidio, which is a Christian community that is officially recognized by the Holy See as a “Church public lay association". It claims 50,000 members in more than 70 countries. It is also recognized by the United Nations within the ECOSOC.

Aside from being fascinated by the grandeur of Rome, we were also struck by the openness of the group for religious dialogues and their willingness to take part in conflict resolutions. They have welcomed us with open arms and they are seriously considering reaching out to the Philippine government and the Catholic Church in the Philippines, the two major players in shaping the direction of this state. This group has a good track record in settlement of conflicts from Africa to Bosnia Herzegovina, and to South America. They played the lead role in the settling of the bloody conflict in Mozambique in Africa where 1,000,000 died of starvation and of the fighting. The peace pact that ended this conflict was signed right at the room where we were received by their key leaders led by its president, Professor Marco Impagliazzo, 47, who is teaching history at the university for Foreigners of Perugia, and is now serving his second term as president. 

From Rome, we proceeded to Catalonia upon the invitation of Mr. Kristian Herbolzheimer of the Conciliation Resources, a member of the International Contact Group (ICG). With our own eyes, we were able to see how former monarchial and later dictatorial Spain has now transformed itself into more federal rather than unitary. Madrid had agreed to grant more and more autonomous powers to the 17 regions especially Catalonia and the Basque Country.  We have also talked to the movers of change in the Catalan political landscape and those who represent the status quo. Throughout our four-day visit, we never felt the stigma of the past and the curse of the 320 Moro-Spanish War in Mindanao. And Madrid, to our surprise, is at peace in allowing the Catalans to pursue their right to identity, language, and for a homeland. But still one of the battle lines of continuous hard bargaining is about the right to tax, which Madrid refuses to budge an inch to Catalan to this day.  

We also had a side trip to Granada where that famous Alhambra Palace of the Moorish King is situated. We saw the grandeur of the palace, the greatness of the architecture, and the impregnable fort where the last battle between the Moors and Catholic army was fought that resulted in the decisive defeat of the first, which ended their almost 800 years rule in Spain. It is an experience of a life-time that brought us back in time, as Atty. Datu Michael Mastura, one ustadz, and I slowly made our way slowly through the crowd of mostly Japanese tourists, to examine every corner and room of the fancied palace.

To the Moros in Mindanao, this side trip is very important. Had not the Moors been defeated in Spain, the Spaniards would not have come to the Philippines and probably the whole of it would have become Muslims, because at the coming of Spain in 1570, Manila and Tondo were firmly under Moro hegemony. There were also many areas in Visayas and Luzon held by Moros especially Batangas, Mindoro, and Pampanga. But these are all water under the bridge. History has it that the unconquered is now at the mercy of the conquered. This is what we are trying to correct in this negotiation: the great imbalance of the totality of relationship between the Philippine state and the Moros of Mindanao.

On this note, I thank everyone in this session hall for lending me his or her ear as we made a rundown of what I believe as the true state of this 15-year old GPH-MILF peace negotiation in Mindanao.

Thank you and good day!
Opening statement of Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF Peace Panel, during the 26th GPH-MILF Peace Talks held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from March 19-21, 2012.

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