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Tuesday, 24 March 2015 06:01


"Never having to say I'm sorry" is a title, by the way, of an old favorite song.  That reminds me of this growing call for the president to say "I'm sorry"  for Mamasapano. If you ask me, I do not think President Aquino will say "I'm sorry" in spite of this clamor. And  in spite of the fact that  the illustrious members of the so-called  Hyatt 10 group  now  surround him in his Cabinet.  If we recall, the Hyatt 10  were the ones  who  prevailed upon former President Arroyo to say "I'm sorry"  for the Garcillano issue. I know this because I sat in the Arroyo cabinet when the issue was discussed. The president herself intentionally skipped attending that session day to allow the whole cabinet to freely and openly discuss the pros and cons. We were deeply divided. Majority did not agree for PGMA to say "I'm sorry". But one faction with  Secretaries Dinky Soliman, Ging Deles, and Cesar Purisima as leaders  argued that the president must apologize openly to the nation to save her government.  When PGMA did what they advised her to do, the next thing they did was treacherously  abandon her. They  resigned en masse from the Cabinet,  wrongly believing that  her government would then collapse. That's all behind us now. Coincidentally (or by stroke of fate),  they are all now cozily seated in the Aquino cabinet. Question: are they  also similarly advising P-noy to say "i'm sorry"? My unsolicited advise to President Aquino: don't listen to them Mr. President. Look what they did to the former president! And yes, it's a bit too late in the day to apologize. That would have been done on Day One.



CAB STILL STANDS --- I heard the MILF leadership got together recently in Camp Darapanan and discussed the "worst case scenario" of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Good move. It is expected that if the BBL  is not approved by Congress or if  it is so "mutilated" that it will not be acceptable to the MILF,  the signed and sealed  Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro (CAB) , including the earlier Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro (FAB) will still stand and  remain  and will continue to be binding between the government and the MILF. Unless of course someone brings the issue of the CAB to the Supreme Court and it is declared unconstitutional. But the fact is, the BBL is only an implementing mechanism of the peace agreement and whatever happens to  the BBL  will not affect the CAB.


WAIT FOR BETTER TIMES ---  I am of the view  that if the conditions today are not conducive to pass an acceptable BBL, it  may  be best  to wait for better times and not force the issue now, lest the consequence may be dire and irreversible. My impression is that  there  is a clear indication that the MILF leadership will walk the proverbial extra mile for peace. Yes, there will be factions or elements in the MILF who will disengage from the mainstream and resort to other means -- violent or otherwise.  We must expect this to happen as we all know and have seen by our very own  eyes how Mamasapano exposed the realities on the ground.  Nonetheless, given MILF Chairman Kagi Murad's unflinching commitment to peace ( I know whereof I speak as I have dealt with him personally for 3 years, both of us as chief negotiators), things will not be that inscrutable as many predict. Having said that, it may be best that Kagi Murad exercise more leadership than what we have observed before.  Given all this,  it may be best for the "war mongers" on our side to take a cue from this. Then things may ease up a bit. But bottom line is: let's all be patient. There is always a way. Maybe not now but later.



BLACKMAIL -- Those who threaten the public by saying that the alternative to a "no BBL" scenario is war are dead wrong. Or are blackmailing us. Let us not force the issue. We may only put to total waste the gains of the peace process if we are not prudent. Let the issues of Mamasapano be first resolved and the heat cools down. Then we can re-visit from where we left off when an enabling environment prevails.  I trust the MILF sees the situation today in this light.



CIVIC JOURNO -- I  was able to catch up on the 2nd day of      Mindanao media workshop on civic journalism  of the Philippine Press Institute in General Santos City the past few days under the sponsorship of NICKEL ASIA Mining Corporation.  I was glad I did, although it was a  close call having to be in Surigao del Norte and Butuan before that and then rushing back to Davao City. Civic journalism is simply all about looking at  day to day concerns or stories, even of ordinary folks. It's about  the foibles of life that ordinary folks  face and writing about them for all to know about. This is apart from the usual stories and headline items about corruption, governance or featuring or quoting spokesmen or popular talking heads like public officials. By  doing civic journalism, the print media bring to public view what we usually take for granted or at times ignore and by so doing somehow bring relief or remedies or just stir public awareness of events that otherwise do not usually see print or get reported. We all know that human interest stories warm the cockles of the heart.



DRY SPELL --- Enroute to the PPI event,  when our plane circled  General Santos City and South Cotabato province  to land, I could see from the plane window  the vast, brown and arid land below endlessly stretching from the sea to the mountains beyond. The dry spell had taken its toll. Only the Del Monte plantations and some oil palm and banana  lands  retained their greenery but all the rest wilted for lack of rain for sometime. It reminded me of the famine due to the EL NINO that visited highlanders of Central Mindanao in1998 during the time of former President Ramos. We provided emergency supply of  rice to the hungry population of about 1 million residents. It was not easy. We had to  quell some unrest of hungry and angry farmers and  barrio folks. Today, we are still on the onset of summer but the dry spell is starting to rear its ugly head. Government must prepare for a similar scenario. In the meantime,  we need a gathering storm  badly  to bring temporary relief.



SUFFERINGS --- This reminds me. I wonder how the thousands of "bakwits" in Maguindanao and nearby areas are coping as military operations against the bad guys are on-going. We know that  human tragedy always takes place when fighting erupts between the military and the armed groups and the first victims for sure  are the non-combatants or those who are not involved at all  one way or the other in the conflict. Even  the families of fighters,  their women and children,  suffer the brunt. Government must be there to attend to them. Never mind if we also give assistance to the families of combatants who fight government. I recall during my time doing Mindanao work for the government, some government relief workers complained that the bags of supplies that we distributed in evacuation centers were usually found in overran and captured camps of the rebels. Of course, we should expect that family recipients of goods  would find ways and means to help their husbands, sons and relatives fighting out there. In humanitarian work, we do not distinguish. In fact, if government responds well and gives assistance, it will win the hearts and minds even of those who fight government and the established order. But if it becomes a humanitarian disaster due to government's incompetence or callousness,  then we breed more dissenters and increase the number of  those who rebel and fight government.

We will see how the on-going military operations cope with the needs of the affected and suffering civilians. However,  what we saw and how things were handled  in the  Zamboanga siege was tragic.


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Sunday, 15 March 2015 02:47


Again, I have some unsolicited thoughts to inflict on everyone. Just thinking aloud on how to move forward. Please consider the following, take it or leave it. But I believe it's high time now that we consider some paradigm shift by changing the discourse from political to development.


TRACK ONE -- With the debacle brought about by Mamasapano, there is an urgent, compelling and indispensable need of re-engaging the public and the stakeholders, especially of Mindanaoans. This can be done by regional peace summits and/or focused group discussions (FGDs) to exorcise the public mind of the negative spectre spawned by the tragedy and to restore the lost or eroded trust and confidence of the public on the BBL while Congress does its job.  Simply, "consulting" with and "listening" to the people. This will also allow the voices of the affected sectors heard loudly rather than be dominated by discordant voices of the "unaffected gallery" or those who are remotely affected by the outcomes.  This was done by President Ramos in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF and by President Arroyo after the MOA-AD debacle. I see no reason why this will not work this time.


TRACK TWO -- While BBL is in Congress, it may be best to make the proposed law more "inclusive" and bring in all together other Bangsamoro sectors who appear to be "excluded" or "sidelined". One way is to consolidate into one road map for all Bangsamoro the new Comprehensive Agreement of the MILF (CAB), the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF and the IPRA law of the indigenous peoples.


a)      To insure that MILF is put in the loop and will not "walk away" and turn its back to the settlement, a discreet effort by Congress to "vet" with the MILF the proposed changes be done. That means opening up quietly a backchannel  " negotiating table" between Congress and the MILF as deliberations in Congress are going on. This will be the mechanism that will explain to the MILF the reasons for the enhancements to the BBL and also to preserve their "maratabat" (pride) that they are consulted along the way and that they have "ownership" of the outcomes.

b)     The pending "tripartite review" (GRP, MNLF & OIC) of the 1996 peace agreement with Misuari's MNLF, which is unfinished but abandoned by OPAPP, be resumed and the output of the review can be inputted or consolidated in the new BBL. This may remedy or address the position of Misuari who has since reverted to his call for "independence" due to his perception that his MNLF is being sidelined or excluded from the peace process.

c)      Pertinent provisions of the IPRA LAW can be consolidated in the new BBL     to arrest the apprehension of the IPs that their own ancestral domains will be jeopardized by the BBL.


All this can bring about either a NEW BBL or an ENHANCED OR AMENDED ARMM LAW (RA 9054)
SCENARIOS -- There are 4 possible scenarios facing the BBL:
a)  delay in the approval of BBL
b)  MILF rejects the final version 
c)  delay in the Supreme Court if a petition is filed
d)  Supreme Court rules its unconstitutionality


TRACK THREE --- Considering the above 4 possible scenarios, it may be best to look at Plan "B" or other alternative options. One possible  alternative for this interregnum or possible debacle and in order to address the high expectations of the Bangsamoro -- or in a "best case scenario",  soon after  a new BBL is entrenched  -- MASSIVE DEVELOPMENT MUST BE DONE IN THE BANGSAMORO AREA. (akin to the so-called Marshall Plan done in Europe after the World War destruction). The donor community (World Bank, JICA, AUSAID, USAID etc) and the foreign countries that have always been supportive of the peace process must be prepared this early to help the Philippine government for this massive development plan.


MILF SINCERITY --- First,  allow me to help  disabuse the minds of many  questioning the  "sincerity" of the MILF in seeking a peaceful settlement. Take it from me. I have worked with the MILF leadership headed by the late MILF Chairman HASHIM SALAMAT starting in 2001 until 2003 when I assumed as government chief negotiator and more especially with now MILF Chairman KAGI MURAD who was then my counterpart across the negotiating table as MILF chief negotiator. Subsequently, I also headed OPAPP. I could tell  MILF's intentions were clear: to find a peaceful but principled settlement to the Moro problem. They have transitioned from struggle for independence to enhanced empowerment.  I can cite many examples but I'll mention only one. For example:  to  the credit of the MILF, they have agreed early on (during my "watch" as chief negotiator) to do development on the ground while negotiations were still going on. Hence the formation of a "Mindanao Trust Fund" (with the World Bank as lead)  with the MILF organizing its development arm called "Bangsamoro Development Authority" (BDA). It should be noted that this was never done before in any peace negotiations anywhere in the world. The purpose was to "capacitate" them (from combatants to development workers)  and to start a modest template of development partnership and to find "comfort zones" with the donor community and the government's development agencies.  The original plan was that after the final peace agreement is done, then a massive development fund can be put together with the MILF taking the lead on the ground to improve the lives of the Bangsamoro.


CAPABILITY --- While my experience with the MILF convinced me of the leadership's sincerity, the issue of "capability" however kept bothering me ever since. Unlike our AFP, the so-called command and control of MILF's forces by its leadership  were -- and still are -- not that tight as we normally expected.  Moreover, their  communities host all sorts of armed groups (kidnap for ransom, criminals, private armed groups (PAGs) and it is too much to expect the MILF to have full operational control over all of  them. Mamasapano is a stark example. Truth is, MILF numerically is a minority but they somehow showed they are carrying the torch for the Bangsamoro.  The expectation was that if it is bestowed some level of authority, the MILF can eventually put some semblance of order to the disparate and challenging environment. But leveling  of such expectations have some  factors to consider.  Reality dictates that MILF , even if entrenched, cannot dominate the scene in areas like the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawitawi obviously due to tribal considerations and the preponderance presence  of the MNLF there. All told, tribal and ethnic considerations must  be factored in the over-all picture  because those who know these sensitivities are cautionary about this.


RECALIBRATE --- With the 4 scenarios above at play.  we may need to recalibrate things.  We know that the "mantra" of rebel groups, MILF included,  is to seek a  "political settlement" first and foremost, before "development" can be done in their areas, protecting their  constituents from being "coopted" and their "cause" consequentially shunted aside. The mantra is: peace settlement FIRST before development. Perhaps, we can now  all consider  a paradigm shift:  development SIMULTANEOUS  with seeking a final settlement. With the need to restore confidence and rebuild lost goodwill, it may be best now that we jointly re-invent the approaches and the timelines.  The MILF  can be partners of the government in this massive development work, in order to win or regain lost goodwill and trust WHILE WE ARE ALL STILL FINALIZING OR ENTRENCHING OR NURTURING THE PEACE SETTLEMENT.  This is a win-win alternative.  Improving the lives of people is always a winner. Then the FINAL political settlement  can follow. We need not force the issue now, if we can help it.

But  if this is too radical a shift, then the best-case scenario is to change the discourse from political to development. The political settlement can be allowed to slowly evolve.  The MILF will not -- or should not -- reject this because then it may give credence to the suspicion of some sectors that they give priority to political power than improving the lives of the Bangsamoro.  For in the ultimate analysis, it is the latter that peace settlements are all about.


PEACE BUS --- As a final note. Sadly, we are all DISTRACTED from the intended main focus of the day.  Investigations, blame games, calls for retributions and vengeance, seeking justice and accountability can well proceed on their own. But, these are all "side streets".    Our "peace bus” has detoured from the main route.    By all means, let's all recover our lost bearings.

Shall we?

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