Monday, February 20, 2017

'Right to peace' | Move quickly to prevent more bloodshed, experts tell government and MILF

From InterAksyon (Feb 20): 'Right to peace' | Move quickly to prevent more bloodshed, experts tell government and MILF

Military and MILF representatives flash the peace sign in this March 3, 2014 file photo. (INTERAKSYON/Dennis Arcon)

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) must act quickly on the recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to prevent more bloodshed, especially as some youth being indoctrinated by extremists are growing “restive”.

This is according to retired Mindanao State University professor Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, who trained 24 facilitators to conduct TJRC “listening process” sessions among 3,000 Moros, Christians, and indigenous people in 211 communities in Mindanao. Here, participants told their experiences of war, displacement, and discrimination, among others.

The TJRC is an independent commission created by the government and the MILF under the Normalization Annex of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The TJRC held listening process sessions to learn the grievances of the Bangsamoro people – including MILF and Moro National Liberation Front communities – to fulfill their mandate of making recommendations on how to address historical injustices, grievances, human rights violations, and marginalization through land dispossession, in order to promote healing and reconciliation.

On Monday, the TJRC launched their last two reports: “Listening Process Report 2017” and “Dealing with the Past and Land Dispossession in the Bangsamoro” at the Dusit Thani Manila.

Here, Guiam said that having just visited Basilan and Sulu, she sensed restiveness among the youth, just waiting to be ignited into “a full-blown war”.

This amid a backdrop of killings that remained unabated, even in a “peaceful” city such as General Santos, where one of her students was murdered in broad daylight.

In Basilan, she added, it was normal to see military vehicles patrolling the streets, with soldiers holding machine guns, ready to fire.

“How long will that dangerous, normal thing happen? It might be blown out of proportion later on if we are not able to address this,” Guiam said.

Some of the youth were also being lured by extremists. According to her, the Turkish government had already classified a group pretending to espouse tolerance in a Zamboanga school as a terrorist organization.

Guiam said she was afraid of what these would lead to, which was why she urged the government and the MILF to swiftly address the TJRC's recommendations.

The body had published 90 recommendations in a report it made in March last year, on top of their proposal for the creation of an independent National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB).

According to TJRC chairperson Mo Bleeker, this would be tasked to investigate human rights violations; help resolve land disputes in conflict areas; promote accountability in relation to past and present wrongdoings; and promote healing and reconciliation among the affected communities.

Some of these recommendations could be implemented immediately, and without legislation.


Memorialization was an example. Under the TJRC's March 2016 report, specific tragic events would be memorialized, victims would be honored, and historical sites relating to the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples would be identified and memorialized.

Memorialization initiatives honoring Martial Law victims would also include the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples.

Guiam and her colleagues also stressed the need to implement the law authored by Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara requiring Bangsamoro history to be taught in schools.

Majority of Filipinos were clueless about the Bangsamoro's past. Guiam said there was a reason why war was waged, and it was not because they were innately bloodthirsty.

While the reports had gained a “positive” reception from the government and the MILF, said Bleeker, they had not yet formally committed to them.

The two had to enter into an official agreement, on paper, so they could jointly plan on how to move forward.

“We want them to hit the ground running, so to speak... People are wanting to see, after all the talk, where's the action?” Guiam said.

Bleeker added, “On the ground, there is a lot of hope, but there is also a lot of danger that if nothing happens, people might enter into desperation.”

Guiamel Alim, the coordinator of the TJRC listening process, noted that one of the reasons why some of the youth are joining extremist groups was because of frustration that nothing good was happening. Radicalism, to them, became the better alternative.

“You need to give hope to these young people. They are full of energy, and they want to contribute to a solution. So we can show them a path to a constructive solution,” Bleeker explained.

The speakers were optimistic that the NTJRCB, at least, would be created under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Atty. Ishak Mastura, the convenor of the TJRC Marginalization through Land Dispossession Study Group, said that Duterte frequently spoke about historical injustice, assuaging the hurt among the Bangsamoro. Such speeches were an acknowledgment of the Bangsamoro's past.

Meanwhile, Bleeker saw no problem with the government dealing with the MNLF separately, and added that the TJRC's approach could also be used for the peace process between the government and the MNLF, and the government and the National Democratic Front.

“It touches the soul and the heart of the people, it acknowledges what happened to them... They have the right to peace, and they want to be acknowledged in what they went through,” she said.

Guiam added, “The pain of war strikes a common chord no matter who you are.”

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