In the early morning of 9 September 2013, the people of Zamboanga were roused by explosions and gunfire that resulted in hysteria, some casualties and injuries, and displacement. The events have drawn attention from all fronts, including international, and have raised a host of humanitarian concerns ranging from the needs of evacuees, the release of hostages, and the reduction of the violence and firepower that have marked the standoff between Philippine security forces and the MNLF (Misuari) forces.
All these serve to underscore, now more than ever, the difficulties and complications involving the search for peace in Mindanao. We recall that nearly twenty (20) years ago, on 2 September 1996, the MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari and the government of then President Fidel Ramos signed the so-called Final Peace Agreement (FPA). On hindsight the FPA now appears to be badly flawed and implemented. Thus, of late, Chairman Misuari has been calling upon the government to fulfill its obligations in the accord. A tripartite review process has been organized to address the issues involved in the implementation of the FPA of 1996. Lately, however – the MNLF claim – the Philippine government has written the Organization of Islamic Conference, of the termination of the tripartite review process. This has allegedly led to their return to their pre-FPA stance and Chairman Misuari’s declaration of Mindanao independence. The termination of the tripartite review process has been flatly denied by the Philippine Government which declared that it has in fact invited the MNLF, (including providing reserved seats in the Transitional Commission), for discussions related to issues on the Mindanao peace processes and governance in the Bangsamoro. The latter have, however, not acceded.
Now we observe the consequences of the lack of understanding and consensus on the roadmap that should characterize the Philippine Government’s treatment of the peace process with the MNLF. In the midst of the critical events that have gripped Zamboanga City, we are faced with a humanitarian nightmare that must be dealt with on multiple levels, i.e., at the level of… (a) the national government with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process helping provide key directions for decision and action, (b) the city government taking the lead on local crisis management, (c) at the international level, where the engagement of over 50 countries comprising the Organization of Islamic Conference may very well persuade a return to the negotiation table to craft out a meaningful constructive direction towards peace with the MNLF, and (d) ) at the level of civil society solidarity groups – religious, academic, NGOs, peoples’ organizations, etc. – that may offer various forms of support, from negotiation assistance to relief work.
Most immediately, we call for attention to the imperative of peace. Alas, it is the poor and innocent who die and suffer in this senseless violence. Regardless of how lofty the cause, there is no justification in the use of violence against defenseless citizens, the ordinary people who most love and only wish to work in peace. With the attack, thousands of children were suddenly hijacked of their school and play, families suddenly losing houses and livelihoods and loved ones, wholesale terror and anger suddenly seizing a whole city. In the strongest terms possible, we express our outrage and declare that this kind of violence has no place among the peace-loving people of Zamboanga and its environs.
We call on the MNLF to carry its grievances to the peace table. For the sake of the people of Mindanao, especially the Bangsamoro citizens, the MNLF must seriously consider the public assurance of national government to carry on the talks with Indonesia as facilitator. At the end of the day, peace must prevail. But there can be no peace and harmony in any society without rule of law.
Lastly, we urge the authorities to act with dispatch and righteousness, address and manage the crisis with utmost sobriety and efficiency. The sooner this crisis is resolved, the faster we shall achieve normalcy and peace.
May God save Zamboanga and its people.
FR. ANGEL C. CALVO, CMF REV. PAULINO R. ERSANDO
Lead Convener Evangelical Convener
PROF. ALI T. YACUB, AL-HJ MR. NULHAMDO P. CEGALES
Muslim Convener Indigenous Peoples Convener