Bishops on GPH-MILF initial peace pact: ‘Continuing consultation needed’

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon News/15 October) Mindanao bishops welcomed the signing of the framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in a joint statement Sunday but stressed their belief that continuing consultation is needed to bring the peace process forward, said the two-page statement, a copy of which was forwarded to Bukidnon News by Malaybalay bishop Jose Cabantan today.

“We view with vigilant optimism the announcement of a coming peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the first steps towards forging a just and lasting peace in Mindanao and that a formal peace agreement is not the end of peace building but the beginning of much hard work ,” they said in the 792-word statement released a day before the agreement was signed in Malacañang.
“May the two highest values in all our religious traditions – love of God and love of neighbor – be our constant guide in working for reconciliation and building a Culture of Peace in Mindanao, the bishops said in the statement, which Cabantan said was penned down by Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo.

The statement was signed by archbishops Quevedo, Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Jesus Dosado of Ozamis. Bishops Guillermo Afable of Digos, Colin Bagaforo of Cotabato, Cabantan, Edwin dela Pena of Marawi, Elenito Galido of Iligan, Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, Martin Jumoad of Isabela, and Cris Manongas of Zamboanga also signed the statement.

The bishops cited the six values that constitute a “people’s platform for peace in Mindanao” as an outcome of massive consultations on the issue through Konsult Mindanaw.

The bishops said they did not forget the rejection in August 2008 of the Memo of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) due to its lack of transparency and certain provisions that were deemed unconstitutional.

“In the aftermath of that rejection, we recall the efforts of the Bishops-Ulama Conference to sponsor a year-long series of multi-sectoral consultations to uncover the underlying factors for promoting a culture of peace in Mindanao,” they added.

They cited that much work has to be done “in concretizing the meaning of sincerity, security, sensitivity, solidarity, spirituality, and sustainability (the six values) in our various communities in Mindanao.”

“We reiterate these visions and voices for peace coming from Muslim, Lumad, Catholic and Protestant participants in these consultations,” they added in the statement entitled

‘Statement of Catholic Bishops in Mindanao on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.’

The bishops said there has to be sincerity – to dispel the atmosphere of mistrust and confusion in many communities.

“There is need for policy cohesion among the various agencies of the Philippine Government as well as transparency through public consultation and communication.  Previous agreements should be honored and a consistent mandate should be given for the credibility of the peace panels,” they added in the statement.

They also called on the Bangsamoro groups to “strive to act with one voice while good governance practices in the present Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao could be highlighted as a prelude to the creation of a new political entity.”

Security is the second value cited by the bishops based on Konsult Mindanao findings adding that Mindanao has been depicted for a long time as a theatre for war and intermittent local conflicts.

“People’s fears and insecurity have to be addressed.  The proliferation of armed groups has to be checked.  To enhance security, authorities should intensify humanitarian work and the reintegration program, radically reduce arms and war profiteers, strengthen localized security strategies, and align economic and environmental projects with peace building efforts,” the bishops added.

The bishops also cited sensitivity as the third value necessary in the continuing negotiations.

“Many communities in Mindanao are suffering under layers of hurts and biases as a result of a long history of colonization and conflict.  For some, this has resulted in losing their ancestral domain and in being looked down upon,” they added.

The bishops also touched on the role of indigenous peoples in the peace process.

“Many indigenous people (Lumad) communities feel left out of the peace process.  To counter these adverse factors, there is need for respecting the people’s right to self-determination, multi-cultural sensitivity in education, and healing of trauma for internally-displaced persons and communities,” they added.

The bishop also cited the role of information and communication channels to provide a venue for people’s participation as a way to concretize the fourth value of solidarity.

“A sense of oneness among the tri-people population of Mindanao can only come about when ordinary people can meaningfully participate in the building of peace,” the bishops added, calling on mass media, schools for peace, and civil society peace movements to contribute “towards forging solidarity.”

The 11 bishops also cited the need to build “social infrastructure that connects communities rather than divides them.”

“We should pay special attention to the needs of IDPs in conflict-affected areas,” they added.

They also cited that Konsult Mindanaw participants envisioned a peaceful Mindanao where Muslims, Lumads, Christians and members of other faith traditions live together in harmony and religious freedom.

“The religious traditions of both Islam and Christianity as well as of indigenous people can bring about both internal and external peace,” they added.
The bishops also cited the need for sustainability or long term viability of the peace process – so government and social institutions have to be harnessed to work for the people.

Among the initiatives that need to be institutionalized are the following, the bishops said, include legislate new structures as needed for the peace accord to bear fruit, ,mainstream the peace lens in local governance,  professionalize peace efforts, and strengthen the NCIP and the Indigenous People’s Movement.

The bishops said there is a need to correct discriminatory practices in the justice system and to strengthen peace education. (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)