Another Mindanao Is Possible

When they officially launched the implementing phase of the Bangsamoro peace agreements between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last Saturday, August 13, in Malaysia, it was a ceremony inspired by high-tech sci-fi movies.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim jointly pressed a button with Malaysian Deputy Minister of Defense Dato Sri Mohd Johari bin Baharum and Malysian Facilitator Tengku Dato Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed and a video launched that flashed images and clips of the war in Mindanao, the peace negotiations, the signing of the peace agreements, lobbying in Congress for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), then a little bump in the road prior to the 2016 elections.

It was like a back to the future moment, a movie montage with a stirring soundtrack that accompanied the images of destruction and despair, then struggle and hope, only to be crushed again. But, wait, there is a surprise plot twist. The video ended with happy and hopeful faces of Bangsamoro women and young people taking selfies with the first Philippine President from Mindanao, Rodrigo R. Duterte.

And that final image right there made me cry. Because it looks like another Mindanao is possible in my lifetime.

“We expect more success stories under President Duterte’s administration,” an optimistic Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF implementing panel said.

Chairman Iqbal counted the ways how he believes that this time, it will be different.

He noted that we now have a president who does not only come from Mindanao, but has Moro blood running in his veins. President Duterte not only understands the conflict in Mindanao, he is the only Philippine president who has publicly acknowledged the “historical injustices” committed against the Moros and is determined to rectify them. Iqbal said it takes “a great man” to admit that.

He also pointed out how the presidential peace adviser hails from Mindanao and is “a friend of long standing of the MILF” and almost all of the government implementing panel members are from Mindanao, too. Because of this, Iqbal believes that they will resolve the conflict without delay because they also have a personal stake in it. They live in Mindanao so they want the violent conflict to end now.

The warm friendship between the government and MILF panels was very evident during the two-day meeting in Malaysia. The talks were light and full of laughter. Everybody was excited to get down to work. They discussed an ambitious and accelerated timeline to implement everything. They are confident that because they have been at this for a very long time now and have been comfortable with one another they will be able to accomplish a lot of milestones in such a short period of time.

Things that seemed impossible before are happening now.

Like MILF agreeing to expand the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and the possibility of having the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and other groups be included for them to collaborate and converge their proposals for a truly inclusive enabling law.

Like the MILF being open to a joint strategic planning session with its government counterparts on how they can fast-track the implementation of the peace agreements. They are even talking of having a joint communications plan!

Like having all the meetings be held in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao, and the government panel willing to even have meetings inside MILF camps.

Like having Bangsamoro women meaningfully participate in the peace process and playing key roles, not just supporting ones.

Even the government of Malaysia and many international partners have been very impressed with the significant changes taking place in the peace process. They could not believe they are happening and at such an accelerated pace. They used to note the slow and bumpy process before. Now they are having a challenging time catching up with the Duterte administration.

The media coverage of the peace process has also changed with more voices from Mindanao being heard. Now stories from Mindanao are being told by people from Mindanao. The faces representing Mindanao are truly that of people born and raised in Mindanao.

Change is, indeed, here. And I believe a peaceful Mindanao is now possible.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, August 18, 2016