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Hope trumps reality in the Philippines

Sceptics can only hope the Manila-MILF peace deal will last longer than the "failed experiment" it will be replacing.
Last modified: 3 Apr 2013 20:09

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission is a 15-member panel entrusted with drafting a Basic Law for the establishment of a "functional and sustainable" autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines.

Seven members of the TransCom - the name by which the panel will be known - are nominated by the government and another seven by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It will be chaired by the MILF's chief peace negotiator.

However, if the answers to the questions put to TransCom members on Wednesday, when they were first presented to the public, are anything to go by, the underlying mantra of the panel - which is meant to represent a wide spectrum of stake-holders - seems to be something that New Age believers and positive thinkers are all too familiar with - the psychological idea of "acting as if".

Some call it "faking it till you make it" - believing ahead of seeing, that the power of one's will, or intention, is a "creative" force behind any reality.

After more than 40 years of struggle, 10-plus years of which were spent mired in negotiations, a framework for peace was signed by the two sides in 2012.

The previously separatist Muslim group of rebels was finally going to get the right to self-determination for all Muslims, or Bangsamoro, in the southern Philippines.

But wait, there's already an existing “political entity” known as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM.

It was inaugurated in 1990 after a peace deal had been signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – the mother group from which the MILF broke away.

'Failed experiment'

ARMM, however, is now considered a "failed experiment", bogged down by too many grey areas in relation to the national government and allegations of corruption.

Naturally, the MNLF leadership isn't too thrilled that its splinter group will be getting a separate peace deal that will supersede its own. Indeed, that's exactly what it will do: the establishment of the "new and improved" political entity called Bangsamoro will put an end to the ARMM.

All in all, peace in the southern Philippines has been a long-drawn-out process, but there are those that feel that things are still being rushed. That the incumbent Aquino administration is hurrying to get things completed before the end of term in 2016, so it might leave it as a legacy. And because of that, too many steps are being taken prematurely.

As an example, they point to the creation of the TransCom. How can the drafting of a Basic Law begin when several issues in the peace framework's annexes are still being debated and in need of resolution, including the all-important security and policing issue and the redistribution of armed troops?

"We will cross that bridge when we get there," was the TransCom's reply.

It was the the TransCom's reply to many questions: the point is, things are at least, finally, moving, concretely, in the right, peaceful, direction. They are "acting as if" the final peace agreement is already done and wrapped up in a neat little bow. 

Yes, they are aware there are still bumps to be smoothed over, but they're determined that the generation that follows them will not know armed struggle.

It seemed almost "unimaginable", one of the panelists, a former guerrilla, intimated.

He had spent all his life fighting; now he will get the chance at a "real peace". Believing - to see.

'Shared commitment'

Mohagher Iqbal, TransCom chairperson, called it a "giant leap", a “testament to shared commitment". He didn't seem quite sure how they would get there, but he trusted that they would.

For the first time in ages, both sides seemed to be happy to give each other the benefit of the doubt. They acted as if they did. Trust each other. They had to.

There was an almost tacit agreement among the TransCom members that time was running out.

That maybe the next government wouldn't be as "open" or "friendly". That this original group of MILF leaders were getting older, and the next generation might not be as politically motivated or diplomatic.

Peace had to be come by now. They all expressed their belief in it.

There was a lot of that being thrown about at the TransCom's inauguration - "trust", "belief" "faith" ... . They were seeing the ultimate goal without quite being clear about how exactly to get there.

Only that everyone involved was determined to get there. That determination was almost palpable in the room.

And because of that, as New Age believers and positive thinkers will tell you, these peace stakeholders may just get what they want.

The sceptics can only hope that the latest peace deal will last longer than the "failed experiment" it will be replacing.