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September is Month of Peace

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The country observes September as Peace Month for the nth time even as genuine and lasting peace has been elusive because of fighting between Filipinos against Filipinos for over four decades already, although two separate negotiations are again underway to settle the armed conflict in two fronts peacefully.

One such negotiation is between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); the other is with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

The peace talks bore fruit when the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos signed a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Sept. 2, 1996.

But the peace accord was opposed by a splinter group, the MILF which continued the armed struggle during the incumbency of then President Joseph Estrada who declared an all-out war against the MILF in the summer of 2000.

Government forces captured all MILF camps in Central Mindanao, including Camp Abubakar, but the MILF was not crushed and continued its armed struggle to date.

On the other hand, since 1969, the NPA, the armed wing of the CPP/NDF, has been waging a protracted insurgency war in the countryside.

In fact, the NPA fighting force reached about 25,600 in February 1986 when then President Ferdinand E. Marcos was overthrown during a bloodless people-power revolution that catapulted Mrs. Corazon C. Aquino to the presidency.

Mrs. Aquino, with her full mandate as the 11th President of the Republic of the Philippines, opened the avenues for peace with the rebel groups – the MNLF and the NPA.

As a gesture of genuine reconciliation, she ordered the release from detention of captured CPP chairman Jose Ma. Sison. Also released was Bernabe Buscayno, alias Commander Dante, with the hope of forging a genuine peace agreement with the communists.

Mrs. Aquino disregarded protocol when she went to Jolo, Sulu to meet Nur Misuari, the MNLF chairman, in late 1986. The meeting between Mrs. Aquino and Misuari bolstered the government’s confidence-building measure.

Even before the two leaders met, local peace talks between the government and the MNLF had taken place as early as 1977 when government negotiators went on an island-hopping in Mindanao to talk to MNLF commanders.

The local peace talks did not prosper as the war in southern Philippines continued to rage with heavy casualties sustained on both sides.

A supposed “peace talk” between Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista, commander of the First “Tabak” Division of the Philippine Army (PA), and Usman Sali, an MNLF commander, in Patikul, Sulu ended in bloodshed when Bautista and his men were massacred during the “negotiation.”

Bautista and 35 of his men were killed. Only one survived, Private First Class (PFC) Oliver Calzada who played dead.

Peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF have been off-and-on over the years but no peace agreement has been reached.

During the time of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, peace negotiations continued to hold peace negotiations with the communists and Muslim rebels, but still no accord was signed during her nine years in office.

In August 2008, fighting erupted anew in some parts of Central Mindanao when the Arroyo administration aborted the signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) after the Supreme Court ruled it as unconstitutional.

However, even at the height of the fighting, the government and the MILF peace panels continued their backdoor negotiations, a strong indication that both sides wanted to reach an amicable settlement of the Mindanao conflict.

Peace negotiations between the government and the CPP/NDF/NPA have also been off-and-on over the years.

Forty years have passed, but today the country is still facing a two-pronged insurgency war -- one waged by Muslim rebels and the other by the communists, not to mention the war on terror the government is waging against the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Then, how do we find peace?

This is a question everyone’s lip is asking for over four decades now. Some 200,000 Filipinos have been killed during the period, not by foreign forces but by Filipinos against fellow Filipinos!

This domestic upheaval has resulted in a boom-and-bust of the Philippine economy as the insurgency war continues, interspersed by nine failed coup attempts by rebel soldiers in mid- to late 1980s.

We Filipinos flagellate ourselves. In deadly warfare Filipinos versus Filipinos, there are no winners, only losers -- the Filipino people.

The road to peace is not easy. It is full of loopholes but the government now under the leadership of President Benigno S. Aquino III is determined more than ever to end the armed conflict in the country through peaceful means.

The President went out of his way for a one-on-one meeting with Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the MILF chairman, in Tokyo, Japan last month to fast-track the peace process.

On August 22-23, 2011, the peace panel of both sides resumed their exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur that ended abruptly when the MILF peace panel rejected the “3-for-1” counter proposal of the government in contrast to the MILF’s proposal for the creation of a sub-state in Mindanao.

However, Prof. Marvic Leonen, chair of the government peace panel, observed that “the MILF panel did not return the document,” because the MILF panel "needs the document to show to the central committee for their decision” in rejecting the government’s counter-proposal.

“Be that as it may, the situation that we have now is that the parties have their various positions on the table. It is not unusual in negotiations that one of the parties take a hard-line position on the contents of the initial documents of another party,” Leonen said

The MILF, on its website Luwaran dated Sept. 2, 2011, quoted Murad as saying that the “peace negotiations had not broke down…as he dismissed speculations and viewpoints that the peace negotiation between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) is now on a deadlock.”

Murad made that statement during an interview with television anchor Korina Sanchez of the ABS-CBN at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on Sept. 1.

“Speculations had surfaced in various media that the negotiations had broken down amid speculations that the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel headed by Mohagher Iqbal rejected the proposal for a peace pact submitted by the GPH Peace Negotiating Panel headed by Dean Marvic Leonen during the last peace talks in Malaysia on Augut 22-24, 2011,” the Luwaran website said.

“We did not reject the government proposal. But it was not discussed because after careful look on it by our peace panel during the last meeting in Malaysia, they saw no points of discussion,” Murad stressed.

Murad also said “that the MILF Peace Panel was on the position that the proposal of the government had no connections with the previous agreements and consensus reached between the government and MILF during the past 14 years of the peace process.”

On the other hand, hundreds of underprivileged Muslim children from various Muslim communities in Metro Manila joined the observance of the Grand Hari Raya Puasa, which officially opened the 8th National Peace Consciousness Month this September.

The event was a show of solidarity with Filipino Muslims at the close of Ramadan celebration on Saturday.

Hosted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the festive event was held at the Bahay ng Alumni, University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

As part of the line-up of activities to be held all throughout September, the Grand Hari Raya Puasa gathered less fortunate kids from Muslim areas for a sumptuous feast.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles welcomed the children with greetings of peace and gratitude.

“Kayo ang mga dahilan kung bakit hindi tayo sumusuko sa paghahanap ng kapayapaan… Ngayong Peace Month 2011, sama-sama nating isipin kung ano ang hitsura ng isang mapayapang Pilipinas. (You are the reason why we never give up searching for peace….This Peace Month 2011, let us envision together a peaceful Philippines),” she said.

The event also served as an observance of the Muslim way of life and appreciation of its vastly rich culture.

National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Executive Director Djalia Hataman gave a solidarity message to the Muslim youth, reminding them of the valuable lessons they learned through Ramadan.

“Islam is a way of life, not a religion… Ramadan is an institution of learning - on how to restrain, how to control what is bad… We implement it and learn from it for a span of time until it becomes a part of our everyday way of life,” Hataman explained. “May you become peace builders, agents of peace – Ramadan or not.”

Musicians from Kontemporaryong Gamelan Pilipino or Kontra-GaPi started the event with a lively and engaging presentation on contemporary ethnic music. Children were exposed to different instruments coming largely from the Mindanao areas and also the Cordilleras.

Mindanaoan singer Datu Khomeini, dubbed as the “King of Moro Songs,” wowed the young crowd with his heartfelt rendition of Maranao, Tagalog and Maguindanaoan songs.

Afterwards, the NCMF Dance Troupe showcased their skills in traditional Muslim dances.

Actor Diether Ocampo, who is the co-founder of Kabataang Inyong Dapat Suportahan (K.I.D.S.) Foundation, also reached out to the children, encouraging them to heed the call for peace.

The Ronald McDonald House of Charities also made the Grand Hari Raya Puasa possible by providing the meals for the guests. Government agencies, on the other hand, offered free medical and dental services.

Event partners include the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Philippine Red Cross, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and National Youth Commission.

Other sponsors are the Knowledge Channel, National Bookstore and the Office of Senator Franklin Drilon.

Also present during the event were OPAPP Undersecretaries Dimasangcay Pundato and Luisito Montalbo; OPAPP Assistant Secretary Jehanne Mutin; Government of the Philippines (GPH) Panel Member in talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Miriam Colonel-Ferrer; Mindanao coordinator of Young Moro Professionals Network Samira Gutoc; peace advocate Yasmin Busran-Lao; among others.

Now on its 8th year, the National Peace Consciousness Month is a celebration of the country’s efforts to engage Filipinos in the peace process and in the search for a just and lasting peace.

This year’s theme, “Sa Kapayapaan, May Kaunlaran: Makiisa, Maki-PEACE-ta!” celebrates the peace gains of the government’s initiatives and highlights the value of peace, unity and community in reaching progress and development in the country. (PNA Feature)

By Ben Cal




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