Peace, but not at any cost

HINDSIGHT - F Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2015 - 12:00am

How sad that President Benigno Simeon Aquino began his term with bloodshed — the “mishandled” rescue of the Hong Kong hostages at the Luneta, and ends it with this “misencounter” in Maguindanao. His inadequate response to Mamasapano resulted in the huge drop in his credibility, according to the latest surveys. Now, even former President Fidel V. Ramos has urged him to say mea culpa. But true to his character, he will most probably avoid this by creating more excuses.

In creative writing, this is an iron rule: character is fate. This also so true in real life — people act out their fate according to their character. From the very beginning, the President has shown a stubborn streak and at the same time, rigid loyalty to his friends.

He is very personal — not presidential — in so many of his actions. In a particular area wherein I am personally interested, up to now he has not proclaimed the National Artists that have already been approved by the institutions tasked to select them.

A leader has to perform duties demanded by his office, not by his person. But P-Noy, it seems to me, is conditioned by ego which hinders him from adhering to the established requirements of protocol, of duty. And his diminished popularity is now validated in the surveys. He is actually helping his enemies who want to demolish his achievements — in cleaning government, in ushering economic development — because they want to cripple and transform him into an inutile lame duck, debunk his influence and vilify the successor he elects to succeed him when he steps down next year.    

All this is a terrible shame. Look at what P-Noy managed to do: a Chief Justice who did not deserve his office was impeached; President Gloria Arroyo is in jail, and so are three senators. Never in the history of this country have such tremendous political developments occurred.

And Hacienda Luisita — it will soon no longer be exploited by his relatives for which reason his uncle Peping Cojuangco and his wife hate him.

Some of his advisers are bums, but look at Singson, Abad, Luistro, Albert, Henares — they are excellent. Yes, the cup is half full, not half empty!

The Aquino administration has poured so much effort and hope into the peace negotiations with the MILF. With the release of both the Senate and the Board of Inquiry reports this week, the agreement will no longer be easy to push through Congress. The easy conclusion now is simply to drop it and start from square one.

First, it is now obvious that the MILF is not sincere and, as suggested in the Senate report, murder charges must be filed against both the MILF and its breakaway faction, the BIFF. It is not just the insincerity that rankles; from the very beginning the agreement was vastly faulty. Malaysia is not an honest broker in the peace process because it occupies Sabah, which belongs to us. In the past, even Malaysia supported the rebel group, the MNLF. Indonesia or Thailand would be far better brokers than Malaysia.

Moro historians are so avidly influenced by their constricted, self-serving view of history, that the Moros are not Filipinos. What are the stern realities on the ground? Through the past many decades, the Moros have interacted with other Filipinos, intermarried, and thousands upon thousands of Moros are now scattered all over the country.

If the autonomous region were created, will all the Moros be sent back to it? The population of Mindanao today consists of a non-moro majority, settlers who settled on the island and cleared its jungles. The ethnic and indigenous inhabitants, the lumads, are also a distinct presence.

Billions of pesos, thousands of lives have already been lost in this strife that started 50 years ago. Land, poverty, neglect and resentment are the root cause — not religion. There is no military solution to it — for which reason peace must be regained. But not at any cost.

By discarding the Aquino peace initiative, a return to square one does not mean a return to hostilities. First, it is an absolute necessity to develop Mindanao. This means that the Mamasapano Bridge itself — a stern symbol of the backwardness of the region — should be replaced with concrete. The region should be laced with roads and its agriculture and other economic potentials should be developed. On their own, the Moros should work harder and realize their own cultural obstruction to progress. The billions as appropriated in the agreement must be spent judiciously in the region. When this development happens, the rebel leaders will then lose their hold on many of their followers who joined them out of frustration and resentment of their oppressive condition.

If the Constitution must be changed, it will not just for the accommodation of the Bangsamoro — it will be for the entire country. A federal system will enable the different regions to develop on their own, and away from the stranglehold of national politicians. Federalism, I hope, will also assure regional development and decongest our already crowded urban centers like Manila and Cebu. Federalism will develop local leadership and hopefully, the institutions that will make individual Filipinos more self-reliant, less shallow and more concerned with their environment.

As Fr. Eliseo Mercado, an old Mindanao hand, has said, it is not just those policemen that were casualties; the greatest loss was trust, and it will take a long, long time for that trust to be restored.

In truth, the poorest of the poor are our real minority — not the Moros. This genuine minority is composed primarily of the landless agricultural workers in the rural areas, the lumpen in the cities who sleep on the sidewalks, most of whom eat only once a day. I do not think there is any Moro who eats only once a day. And the thousands upon thousands of our indigenous people, the Mangyans, the Ballogas, Samals and other groups whose lands were grabbed, who are defenseless before the depredation of powerful Filipinos, Muslim and Christian alike.

The Moros should be included in the highest niches of government, the Cabinet, the justice system, Congress. As for the rebels, after careful training and identification, they should be mustered into the National Police or the Army.

As for our dearly beloved Moro brethren, if they really and passionately want to break up this fragile country and secede, then those of us who truly care about Filipinas should learn to think the unthinkable: genocide.


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