HOLLYWOOD moviemakers have a thumb-rule saying that “Tragedy is easy, comedy is where the challenge is”. It means that it is easier to make a hit movie out of violence and sex than one out of a wholesome, feel-good story.
If Mindanao were a movie, it is obviously a festering shoot ‘em up. The latest breakdown in the 10-year old peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur reveals that our scriptwriters and directors in Manila or Malacanang possess neither the intellectual resource nor moral resolve to write its ending, even one as bizarre or “bitin” as the 1996 peace accord’s. Peace is hard to do, especially to them gods who see Mindanao as a Disney set of second-class, two-bit lumads and fickle and feckless rebels and terrorists who like to shoot each other in the foot. Not that Manila is more peaceable, what with the likes of senators Trillanes and Honasan riding shotgun in their crumbling corridors of power. It seems just that misery loves company, ad nauseum et ad absurdum. Except that one gets the creepy feeling, besides, that Mindanaoans are being fed to real hungry lions.
What, if at all, can us meek, lion-fodder gladiators and extras do to “Cut! Cut! Cut!” the nightmare? Little or no real help can obviously be expected from Kuala Lumpur, who does not have what it takes to shepherd successfully a complicated conflict like Mindanao’s. Our well-intentioned Malaysian friends probably cannot even appreciate well enough what a phrase like “Constitutional process” means in the (tumultuous) Philippine political context. Their nation’s political experience is very different from ours.
Why has Kuala Lumpur – and Manila – allowed the MILF to negotiate along under the illusion that ancestral domain is possible without a plebiscite because of the existing Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA)? There are a few good reasons why IPRA cannot be the vehicle for an outright grant of ancestral areas to the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in the way the MILF envisions it to be, even if indeed the mechanism would require no plebiscite. When the blind leads the blind (or they who refuse or pretend not to see), the precipice is not far ahead.
The MILF has shown a remarkable desire to reach a peace settlement, but a high level “trust and confidence” has really been all that has been insubstantially achieved after 10 wasted years. And the ceasefire, though that as helped a lot.
When President Arroyo suddenly assumed the presidency in 2001, Mindanaoans were quite elated when she promised a la Deux et machina to end peacefully the Mindanao war. Alas, her long term will soon end, but it is the Mindanaoans – not the empress – who continue to ride the lion, devouring us riders one by one.
The Ramos government’s “Six Paths to Peace” helped pave the way to the 1996 peace accord, although a political settlement was only one among the prescribed paths. Mindanaoans can continue to pursue with vigor and creativity these paths, i.e. – 1) socio-economic and political reforms, 2) consensus-building and empowerment, 3) peace negotiations, 4) reconciliation and rehabilitation of rebels, 5) security of civilians, and 6) peace advocacy.
On the other hand, the MILF, if it is desperate enough, can still go to the United Nations and seek belligerency status. Then the UN can put the traditional Muslim enclaves, the ancestral domain areas in MILF’s reckoning, under its protection much like it did in East Timor – and all that would imply in the longer term. The UN need not even have to send peace-keeping contingents to Mindanao. American soldiers who have been here since 2001 would welcome doing the upgraded job, as they claim to have been doing all along and seem reluctant to end their antics sooner. And then Malacanang and nationalists need not fight anymore over the VFA. Now wouldn’t that be a win-win, happily ever after ending?