The Peace Process: Subterfuge?

I was troubled by a recent  Inquirer report that seemed to confirm suspicions I couldn’t quite express. Until now.

I’ve been following the Mamasapano inquiries and am intensely curious why President Aquino remains reticent – no, deliberately ambiguous – about his involvement in that fateful encounter. Ditto the relevant pronouncements of Sec. Teresita “Ging” Deles and Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.

Considering they are on our side of the peace negotiations, their behavior has been hard to comprehend.

While I concur with them that achieving peace is paramount, I hope they understand that grappling with this calamity is also part of the process. They should have been the first to note this and defer to the need of the moment. In view of the present tensions, I even expected them to give notice of a moratorium to the MILF, out of delicadeza and a proper respect for the dead – all the dead.

Why then are they so anxious to “move on” and get the BBL discussions going again, disregarding popular sentiment? I feel harried and hassled by their rush. Isn’t it possible to adjust their BBL timeframe to accommodate a reasonable grieving period? I was affronted to see the whole lot of them in Kuala Lumpur only days after the killings, signing the decommissioning agreement despite the rampant public distrust for the MILF.

Concerning the bereaved, why does Aquino refuse to directly answer the SAF widows’ questions about the reinforcements issue? Why are there so many rumors about his directives to “stand down”? Why was Sec. Deles so quick to speak for (lawyer for?) the MILF in the initial Senate hearing, prompting a chilly rebuke from Sen. Chiz Escudero? On that same occasion, what made Prof. Coronel-Ferrer so irate at Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s remarks that she gritted her teeth throughout and had to be held back by Deles, who eventually spoke in her stead?

So many questions.

Like the rest of the nation, I want to know who must answer for the 44 dead heroes and the 8 innocents, plus the injured survivors. But as the days wear on, the question that presses upon me most is, What exactly did the government panel promise the MILF during the four-year long peace talks that makes Aquino and company so nervous now?

It appears they may have committed more than the public understands. And I have a bad feeling that whatever those commitments were, they had a large part to play in the decisions made by the Commander-in-Chief on that bloody day. They may also be what color the government negotiators’ statements from then to now.

As for the public face of the peace process – Do we really know what transpired in those negotiations? Has a report ever been issued besides the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that is now being enacted as the BBL? And if this agreement is the vaunted output of those talks, then why is it so tentative?

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, wrote the Senate:

The MILF is a revolutionary organization, while we may have signed a peace agreement with the government…that peace agreement has yet to be implemented. Until that peace agreement is fully implemented, we will remain to be a revolutionary organization.

By the looks of it, the government peace panel is more eager to close this deal than the MILF. Why?

Back to the Inquirer report. In an article entitled “Peace Panels to Accept BBL Changes,” Coronel-Ferrer was alleged to have said in various interviews that the peace negotiators are open to the changes Congress might make in the BBL. An Inquirer source in the MILF denied that, however, saying that as far as the MILF is concerned, the BBL must be passed “with no major revisions.” The report continued,

“There are certain dynamics [in the peace process] that Congress is not able to comprehend. The government panel and the OPAPP should explain these and not the MILF,” the source said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

More troubling was the source’s assertion that as the MILF understood it, the executive had the authority to bind the legislature and the judiciary to the agreement.

“It’s not a valid statement [that the agreement is not binding on the Congress and Judiciary] because agreements are negotiated by the executive who has the authority to inform the other two coequal branches of government,” the source said.

If this is truly the source’s understanding, then, it must be asked, does he voice the stand of the MILF leadership? Assuming he does, why does the MILF think that way? What assurances did the OPAPP give them? Did the GPH negotiators, Alan Purisima-like, tell them, “Kami na ang bahala sa Congress at Supreme Court”? Moreover, what “dynamics” entered into the negotiations that the OPAPP and the GPH panel must explain to the rest of us? Disturbing.

MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim has written the House of Representatives saying he trusts  “that Congress will pass the mutually agreed BBL draft with no changes and without diminishing, diluting or watering down its provisions, except probably for minor changes or changes that clearly improve it or enhance it.”

While echoing that, Iqbal nonetheless assured the media recently that the MILF would not wage an all-out war against the government if the BBL is altered. Their options are simple: the MILF can either accept the watered-down law, or not. He hastened to point out, though, that a “diluted” BBL would only prove the anti-peace rebel movements right.

“Magkakaroon tayo ng problem kasi ‘yung ibang grupo mabibigyan sila ng moral ascendency. Pwede nilang sabihin na, ‘Kami ang tama, sabi namin sa inyo ‘wag kayong makipag-usap sa gobyerno ng Pilipinas’,” he said.

Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama has been extremely talkative lately? He seems to have the Inquirer for a phonepal, feeding it execrable threats and calling out the PNP for a rematch if it wants its guns back. It appears to me to be a timely show of bravado and too convenient a confirmation of Iqbal’s point that the BIFF, et al are poised to gloat should the MILF fail.

I can’t help but feel that it all smacks of theatre.

I want to know what is really motivating President Aquino and the government panel to push this agenda. It is favoring the MILF to the point of utter insensitivity – to the clamor for truth, to the call for prudence, to the cry for justice, to the wail of Mindanao for a genuine end to poverty and bloodshed.

It is not true that all those who oppose the BBL are war-mongering hawks. Only a few raucous voices demand “all-out war.” The overwhelming aspiration is for effective and sustainable peace. We cannot win this peace with the threat of reprisal hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. We cannot win it with secret deals and “dynamics” to fulfill one man’s ambition. Peace can never be built on subterfuge.

It would be nice to assign only the best of motives to all concerned, especially to Aquino, the OPAPP and the GPH panel; to think that they were representing us forthrightly would be a relief, even a comfort.

Oh, if only I could.

Banner photo by Anthony S. Datu

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