Toward a Peace Constituency
in our Troubled Land

Opening Remarks by Professor Roland G. Simbulan
Senior Fellow, Center for People Empowerment in Governance


I congratulate the U.P. Institute for Islamic Studies, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), the Pilgrims for Peace , InPeace Mindanao, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for their initiative in organizing this Public Forum which coincides with the resumption of the Government of the Philippines-MILF Peace Talks in Kuala Lumpur which begins today till tomorrow. In a few weeks also, there will also be the resumption of the peace process between the government and the National Democratic Front or NDF.

Later, we will also launch the book, BangsaMoro sa Malapitan by Lualhati M. Abreau. This is actually the second book on the Mindanao conflict published by CenPEG . The first was The Moro Reader. These books reaffirm the historical basis of the Bangsa Moro Peoples' struggles, their historic struggle to reclaim their ancestral domain that was snatched away from them, and their development as a distinct people.

The resumption of the peace talks is an occasion and opportunity to reflect, to pool our knowledge, expertise and experience in the various professions, disciplines, and sectors to the national agenda for peace. The theme of this forum states, "Land: The Core Issue of the Peace Process in Mindanao." It signifies a goal and aspiration. It suggests that the rebellion has always been a cause-oriented rebellion and should be distinguished from plain criminality or banditry. In negotiating with all rebel groups, we will go a long way if state authorities seriously addressed their legitimate grievances, most of which are rooted in the greed and repressiveness of the oligarchy. Learning from the failed negotiations of the past mean that government should abandon a counterinsurgency framework and strategy of tricking these groups into surrendering their arms so that they will be helpless in defending themselves against the goons, mercenaries and private armies of the warlords, landlords, capitalists and political clans.

The academe's expertise is definitely needed to contemplate these problems and issues , and hopefully, to achieve dynamic consensus and develop a vibrant nation-wide peace constituency in our country. Many Filipinos, Moros and Lumads, remain steadfast in their commitment to see a permanent peace in our troubled land, but a peace with justice, where human dignity and human rights are respected. It is not an easy task but it can be done. We count on a growing community of peace makers in various parts of the country, and a peace constituency, to stand with. We must and can make it work. There is determined optimism. We need the will to realize peace with justice so that an enduring peace can finally reign in our land. The Mindanao conflict, according to estimates, has had more than 170,000 casualties killed including combatants on both sides and civilians, and it excludes those who died as internal refugees in evacuation centers.

We owe it to the future generations of our people to see to it that our land is secure from internal strife and united so that we can be stronger in facing external forces that may want to undermine us. Foreign military forces have always intervened for their own agendas, pitting our communities against each other, and lately, waging and extending its so-called "war on terror" on our land, thus further complicating our internal conflict. I have always wondered that, if only the tremendous resiliency of the spirit of our people, their unflinching courage, and ingenuity, which they have shown in times of crisis and internal conflict-- if only these were transformed toward our collective national goals, what a strong national community we would be! Our strong united communities with a vision for collective future - truly deserve peace and prosperity to uplift ourselves from mass poverty that still afflicts our land.

What we discuss and talk about here should not be merely an academic exercise. We must inform policymakers and the public of the result of what we do, with the hope that it will be a guide to action. We may be able to succeed in talking and writing about peace and lasting peace in Mindanao. But only the forces of the people can make this last and endure. Posted by CenPEG

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