Senator Franklin Drilon has made Mindanao peace as an issue in the senatorial campaign by declaring that a vote for President Aquino’s candidates in the May elections is a vote for permanent peace in Mindanao. He said that it is important that Aquino’s handpicked candidates be voted in the Senate because they will push for the President’s policies on peace in the ARMM. The report noted that in making this claim, Senator Drilon is transforming the 2013 mid-term elections into a proxy vote for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement in the next Congress.
Sen. Drilon’s claim earned a fast rebuttal from the UNA camp. UNA candidate Sen. Gregorio Honasan asserts that while he is in favor of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, it is a work in progress and it is not the end all and be all of the elections. Another UNA senatorial candidate Rep. JV Ejercito said that Drilon was misguided in simplifying the election into just one issue. He says: “We all want peace but can we have peace without solving poverty, which is the root cause of this long-running rebellion? Peace cannot be achieved by a mere agreement, there will be no peace if poverty persists. They want development in Mindanao but have they addressed the power crisis in that region? How can there be progress if electricity is expensive and supply is unreliable.”
Ejercito also cautioned Drilon against raising expectations over the Bangsamoro deal as the solution to Mindanao’s peace problem. He calls for a more realistic and sober assessment of the peace pact because there is a possibility it will not deliver the government’s lofty promises or it will not meet the MILF’s expectations and the country will be worse off than it is now. Honasan adds that peace should not be limiting or exclusive, it should involve everybody in the discussions.
I’ve been advocating that Mindanao peace be promoted as part of the national agenda in order to insure national support to the implementation of any negotiated political settlement to the Bangsamoro question. By raising Mindanao peace as an issue in the national campaign, the avenue for getting at least national awareness if not popular support to this cause has been opened. This development reinforces our belief that President Aquino is indeed committed to the peace roadmap in the Framework Agreement and will stake his political capital to see through its completion before his term ends in 2016. I am even more convinced now that more than combating corruption, President Aquino intends to define his presidency as one that has brought peace to Mindanao
Sen. Drilon’s move could not just be his own. Making Mindanao peace a campaign pitch may be a calculated and well-thought move of the Aquino administration. Drawing the battle lines on the issue of passing the Basic Law sends a strong signal to potential “spoilers” that President Aquino will frame the issue of Mindanao peace in a simplistic, black or white way with the mantra “either you are with me or against me”.
But there is a flipside to this gambit. While strong leadership for peace as President Aquino is exhibiting is an essential ingredient in peacemaking, sustainable peace will not be attained unless this strong leadership is backed by strong popular not just fleeting elite support. In the Philippines, our political elites have a way of supporting causes not because they truly believe in them but because it is politically expedient and beneficial. Under the administration of President Gloria Arroyo, Sen. Drilon staunchly opposed the MOA-AD between the government and the MILF that a “fatwa” was even declared against him. While he and other oppositors claimed that they were questioning the deal on procedural and constitutional grounds, their mistrust of the unpopular Pres. Arroyo was really the driver for their opposition. For how can we explain the unconditional support to the Bangsamoro Framework which is still bereft of details by the same persons who scuttled the MOA-AD when the same arguments on constitutional grounds against the MOA AD can be poised against the Bangsamoro Framework?
The Bangsamoro Framework is a crucial piece in the puzzle to attain Mindanao peace but it can only lead to sustainable peace if grassroots and bipartisan support to the details of the roadmap is secured. At this early stage, expressions of support to the Framework ring hollow since without the annexes, there is no way anyone can appreciate the implication of the deal in full to the political and economic interests of the stakeholders. Drawing the battle lines now may win some Mindanao votes for the administration senatorial candidates but this in the long term could hold the peace process hostage to the country’s dysfunctional political processes.
Peacemaking is a long and tedious process of reconfiguring and healing relationships. It is a grave mistake to assume that partisanship and brinkmanship alone can bring sustainable Mindanao peace. I hope that President Aquino’s legacy for Mindanao could be remembered as one that inspired people to contribute and sacrifice for the cause of peace not because of their politics but owing to their genuine appreciation of the history and plight of the Bangsamoro people.