SEPTEMBER 2 this week marked the 16th anniversary of the signing of the Final Peace Agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Philippine Government, under the administration of then Pres. Fidel Ramos.
This Mindanao agreement is one of the bases for Presidential Proclamation 675 that decrees September as National Peace Consciousness Month. With this current month’s celebration theme of “Ako. Ikaw. Tayo. Magkakaiba, Nagkakaisa sa Kapayapaan”, lead implementing agency Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has set up a well-planned flurry of activities to promote peace- making advocacies and actions throughout the country. The accent is on peace education – that is, propagating the “culture of peace” – and multicultural social harmony. There is a rapidly emerging national consciousness that peace as a national issue is not all about the historical armed conflict in Mindanao alone. There are equally crucial struggles that Filipinos must win – from poverty to criminality to gender equality to malgovernance to provision of basic services of health and education and so forth.
While these same problems are very real and important to Mindanao, too, our region’s highest priority is still the decades-old shifting and complex Bangsamoro armed struggle. The ongoing peace talks between government and MILF offers a lot of promise that real peace is possible and within reach. But if history is the best teacher, it is well to remember one important lesson. One year after the signing of the 1996 FPA, the MILF launched hostilities in Mindanao, all but making a mockery of the new deal. And at present, even before the much- anticipated peace agreement is sealed between with the MILF, its breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is already wreaking havoc in Central Mindanao. As the situation unfolds, it looks like another chapter of Bangsamoros factional conflict. And in recent days, hundreds of Muslim and Christian families have fled from their homes to the safety of evacuation centers, creating another humanitarian crisis in Central Mindanao.
It is this woeful, awful social, economic, political and even ideological divisions in Mindanao – but in most communities of the country, too – that lends special relevance and urgency to the observance of National Peace Consciousness Month. To justify by paraphrasing, where the vision of peace is lost, the people perish.