Archive for the ‘Peace’ Category


In my previous article, I vowed to present detailed arguments to prove my thesis that the assassination of Vice Mayor Alexander Tomawis, who previously served as Mayor of the Municipality of Barira for three terms, was also the end of the processes of democratization in the troubled province of Maguindanao.

But as I subject the life of Alex Tomawis to deeper retrospection, it dawned on me that to measure his social significance using as a benchmark the stalled “processes of democratization” in the Municipality of Barira could logically result to the trivialization of his achievement and his dream for the Iranuns, and rest of Mindanao.

The cause that Alex Tomawis gallantly fought for his constituencies, during his life time, pierces deep into the core of the problem that besets the Bangsamoro Homeland for so many decades.

His was a battle to end the isolationist character of local governance in Maguindanao and the rest of the Island, with the Municipality of Barira and the two other municipalities comprising the Iranun Development Council (IDC) as venues of apprenticeship for democratic Moro governance.

Alex Tomawis believed then that, unless a type of governance that totally deprives the Moro masses any access to the processes of decision-making and secludes them wholly from any mechanism that provides opportunities for the people’s meaningful exercise of economic power, lasting peace in Maguindanao and the rest of the Island can never be attained.

His was a new type of a social revolution that intends to transfer political and economic power into the base of society by empowering the masses to optimize the untapped power of their rationality to take hold of their resources, decide for the processes of their becoming, and to freely chart their own destiny.

This is not as simple as we think it is, in the first blush. I know that Alex had realized this as he harped for his last breath after his fragile body was riddled with bullets. For the well-entrenched political warlords in Maguindanao, his is a revolutionary proposition for it intends to totally dismantle a social system and traditional practices that afford them unbridled political and economic power and benefits.

Thus, for the Moro Elite of Maguindanao, a person who works to transform this status quo is flirting with death. Alex Tomawis did, and so, as destined for one who bravely treads into this dangerous ground, is now “resting” in his grave, with his unfulfilled dream and unfinished revolution.

Tom Villarin, an Akbayan nominee who authored many occasional papers for Mindanao and who had long been in the forefront of the struggle for peace and development in this troubled Island, is mourning the untimely death of Vice Mayor Tomawis the way Mark Anthony did to Caesar. This is for a reason.

Above all else, Tom knows every facet of Alex Tomawis’ political exploits and perfectly appreciates every bit of his dream for his people. Tom knows how the fire burns in the heart of Alex Tomawis every time the fires of unrest visit the homeland of the Iranuns. His dream for his people is too noble to be forgotten.

I accompany Tom in his drive to immortalize the dreams of Alex Tomawis, so his people may be able to pick up the torch where he left it and to continue with his difficult journey … and so that he may not die in vain.

Like Tom, I was also privileged to be with this man, Alex, as he reels towards a dream of attaining development and meaningful peace in the municipality of Barira and its the adjoining localities, which constantly serve as a theater of war in the mainland of Mindanao. It was by working with Alex that I came to fully know the character of a man who would soon become a hero for the Iranuns.

I did not have the opportunity to see him beginning in the middle part of 2004 when I was forced by circumstances to voluntarily leave Akbayan and its development networks to undergo the painful processes of self-rectification and reinvention.

Although, I confess that there were times when I was tempted to text him for help when I was soaked in crippling poverty, the kind that almost shattered my family and snatched away my sanity. But, after I weighed things judiciously, I held myself against the temptation to preserve whatever “good impression” he had then on me.

Now that I begin to celebrate my success, and my feat, in preserving the unity of my family amid the cascading misfortunes, Alex Tomawis ended his story. It is also a pity that, at the very same time when I am about to rise from the rubbles and restore my social significance and my dream, he perished.

I happened to head a team of development planners which supervised a six-day practicum for the trainees in participatory development planning in the Municipality of Barira sometime in 2003. One night, while we were in a deep sleep, a loud explosion thundered. Still in half-sleep and trembling furiously, I quickly moved to bury my head on the cemented corner of the municipality (I am a born coward). A few seconds after that, Alex came to me laughing. Then, in a very assuring voice, he told me: “Ben, this is my place. We are safe here.” Embarrassed, I slept my whole night out, with his words serving as my comforting mantle.

Alex was right in embracing a thought that he was safe in the place of his birth and in the bosom of his people. However, he failed to perceive that he could be unsafe in a “safer” place, but away from the people for whose welfare and interest he eventually offered his life.

Previously, I made a solemn vow not to stop writing about Alex Tomawis until justice is served to him, to his family and to his people. But today I pledge to continue writing about this great man for a greater purpose, that is, to immortalize his deeds and his dreams for the glory of successor-generations.

The family of Myrna Reblando could have been a perfect Filipino family had her husband, Bong Reblando, not been there in Maguindanao when the “myths”, in whose assuring principle we relied on our safety since the advent of modern civilization, were shattered.

For so long a time, we find comforts on the thoughts that being in a company of (1) crowd of people, (2) throng of women, and of  (3) group of media practitioners are enough armor to ensure our safety and security. However, these “myths” were shattered by the Maguindanao Massacre.

Really, death comes in so many ways. Sometimes by one’s own folly, many times by the folly of others, and, in other times, by sheer coincidence.

Myrna’s husband, Bong, died consequential to a rupture that shattered the “myths” with which the media and other activist movements hath considered as life’s formidable ramparts. It was just unfortunate that her husband was there when the “myths” were torn apart.

Some say that the Mindanao massacre was divined to free the people of Maguindanao, and other parts of the Island, from the claws of fear, oppression, injustice and death, and those who perished there were offered in the altar of sacrifice in order for society to correct itself.

Bong and the rest were just unfortunate to be there when the journey of civilization made a sudden pivotal twist, with Myrna and many others, bearing the painful social costs inherent to the making of history.

Of course, Myrna, like the rest, cannot just easily accept that it is her husband, Bong, who should render a great sacrifice for society’s self-correction and for the natural processes of its becoming.

In her recent appearance on TV one year after the savagery, Myrna wept and wailed even louder than she did a year ago while actually seeing the body of her husband – cold, mangled, bathed in crimson blood, and dead.

There is a natural logic to this human tendency. Myrna’s situation is more painful this time than it was a year ago.

It is during this period that the feeling of emptiness visits frequently in unlikely moments and in its most haunting fashion. Certainly, it is also during this same period that one’s remembering of sweet and happy memories of a fallen loved one, especially if the fall was caused by the fiercest of all evils, and done in its most barbaric form, is an excruciating experience.

Adding to the pain is how the case against the Ampatuans had dragged for years, without any substantial breakthroughs. Compounding the pain is the thought that, considering the very slow pace that the case advances, the trial may still last for another ten years.

These deplete any hope for justice. There is also nothing more vexing to Myrna and the rest than thinking about the probability of their losing in the “war attrition” against the well-placed culprits, who clearly use the element of time as a potent weapon.

After all, there is nothing more painful than graphically seeing our bleak future looming in the horizon.

If there is a reason for Myrna’s more furious cries nowadays, then, it is this. Tired, scarred and hapless, the families of the victims are still being made to undergo by our country’s justice system a high level of difficulty, as if they are waging a revolution, where triumph is uncertain and defeat is a great possibility.

But Myrna is right in seeking solace to her angry tears. Anger would give her strength. It will give her a sustaining power to bear the unbearable, cling strongly to her dream for justice no matter how impossible, and to finally attain it.

Anger is an awesome power that could make her overcome all obstacles like an avenging angel, give justice to her husband and a good future to her children, and, eventually, to attain peace to herself.

Without Myrna knowing it, the angry tears she shed, while being interviewed on a national TV, had moved the whole nation once again. Our desire for justice is restored. Our drive to work for a peaceful Mindanao is, once again, given life.

Myrna’s angry tears carry an awesome power that we, as a nation, cannot resist. We must respond to the call.

When the “myths” burst, Myrna emerges as the symbol of our struggle and the fleshly embodiment of our hope for this nation.

Who is this guy named Mohammad “Bong” Acquia, and why is he being dreaded by many people?

Bong Acquia, as he is popularly known in media quarters in GenSan, was reported to be the culprit in a shooting incident at Casado Bar, a nightspot located inside the compound of Royale Hotel, a three-star luxury hotel in Gensan.

A case was eventually filed against him at the City Prosecutors’ Office, but not after a strong pressure exerted on the police by some concerned citizens here. However, one of his victims deliberately refused to file any case against him, but for whatever reason, his family could not say exactly.

The near-fatal shooting involving Bong Acquia, which occurred at about 3:00 in the morning of October 29, 2010, almost claimed the lives of two young and promising students – one, a six-footer commercial basketball player, and the other, an academic scholar in one of the universities in General Santos City and also a basketball player.

The victims were John Kusmod, 19, and Curt Coronado, 21, both residents of Doña Soledad Subdivision, Barangay Labangal, this same city. They were reportedly celebrating the end of the school semester with their six (6) other fellow basketball players at the Casado Bar when the shooting incident happened.

There were more to this incident than meets the eye, however. The incident literally plunged certain sections of the city’s population into the abyss of fear, resulting to a situation where almost all are adamant or even refuse to delve into the subject, an unlikely deviation from the usual prominence being given to similar incidents in the past.

The incident prominently marked the existence of a serious social error, not because of the graveness of the crime involved in the incident, but of the seemingly unexplainable awesome power that sent a shiver of fear in the collective spine of the public.

Such power is so magical that it is capable of causing the spontaneous emergence of a climate of fear in the city, despite of the fact that Bong Acquia is not reported to be doing anything that could propel the city into certain level of terror after that near-fatal incident.

During a brief interview in his office, General Santos City Police Director, Cedrick Train, a lawyer with a Doctorate Degree in Jurisprudence, confirmed the existence of a public feeling of fear on Bong Acquia, but failed to venture on a specific reason why it existed and how such public impression actually came into play.

In a privilege speech delivered recently during the regular session of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP), GenSan City Councilor Dante Vicente also impliedly noted how this shooting incident involving Bong Acquia instills fear on the public mind.

Councilor Vicente also ventured into a conspiracy theory proving, in effect, how the alleged tentacles of Bong Acquia within the military and police establishments are working to eventually absolve him of the crime he had committed.

There is sense in Vicente’s conspiracy theory. The pieces of evidence which are material in proving the crime were nowhere to be found. It was also reported that one of the investigators in the City Prosecutor’s Office complained on how the police had built a case against Bong Acquia.

Vicente claimed that the police case against Bong Acquia is too weak and fatally inadequate. For this reason, City Councilor Dante Vicente indicated that there exists a conspiracy between and among the culprit, the bar owner and some elements of the police department.

However, in an interview, Police City Director Train belied the allegation that the cases filed against the culprit are weak and incomplete. He claimed that their case against Acquia is strong and that they still intend to file more cases against him.

Train also said that the evidences already under the custody of the police are enough to secure the conviction of Bong Acquia.

Candidly, this sort of public fear is not new in the city. It is reminiscent of the realities within certain period in the past when illegal gambling outlets mushroomed, were established and openly operated, like sari-sari stores, on every nook and cranny of this city, to include public transport terminals and public markets.

No one dared then to provide an effective critique on the operations of these illegal gambling outlets even when these were done with impunity before the very noses of police authorities.

People then feared of being assassinated by the elements of a powerful syndicate behind these illegal gambling operations, which is allegedly comprised, among others, by armed elements coming from various state agencies.

“You are a ‘dead man walking’ if you do”, one of the prominent members of the local media here said.

However, although the effects of both circumstances on the public are the same, there is a total absence of information linking Bong Acquia to this gambling syndicate, which is still believed to exist even after the recent clamping down of their illegal gambling outlets all throughout the city.

This gambling syndicate is reported to now compose an influential clique, operating as an abstract substructure within the local police establishment with strong support from high officials of the PNP, rendering the regular police command structure wholly ineffective.

“This clique is so powerful and so influential that it could even reduce the police city director into a mere pushover or a hapless prop on the scheme of things”, one local official said.

It was reported that all the gambling outlets which were established here before were under the same syndicated network, but it was then public knowledge that those gambling outlets with a code name “Ground Zero” were owned by one of the popular political figures in the SOCSARGEN area.

The shooting incident involving Bong Acquia is dwarfed in terms of level of heinousness and savagery by the Maguindanao Massacre but its deadly impact on the public nerve is almost the same.

Immediately after the incident, a virtual threat, in the form of an informal news account, began to travel along the underground information highway and this spread like wild fires, especially in the place where the victims reside.

The “news”, which became the subject of loose talks among the victims’ peers in Doña Soledad Subdivision, posited that someone is hiring an assassin for P1, 000,000.00 against any person who would help pin Boy Acquia down. Worse, the “news” is spread with a caveat “during this time and age, persons could kill for P5, 000.00.”

“We don’t know where these rumors come from, but invisible hands seem to cause them to spread so fast”, one resident in Doña Soledad said.

Whether this “news” is true or not, the fact is that the impact of the loose talks is fatal to the victims and their families. They are not so expressive about this, but how the victims and their families are dealing with their fate lately indicate unequivocally that fears for the unknown hover over their heads.

We can decipher this when we attempted to interview them and failed to avail of their cooperation. While they act as normal as they can be, we know that, beneath the fortress of their innate love for justice, something more powerful is influencing their dispositions.

In fact, some of our friends in the media even advised us to handle this incident with extraordinary caution. Their logic was that this Bong Acquia is a well-connected person and has been reportedly in control of an armed infrastructure that, while operating clandestinely, has gained tolerance from some powerful sections within the police establishment, which may also be a part of such armed formations.

Bong Acquia’s alleged control of an armed formation cannot be confirmed by independent and official sources, although Train confirmed that really such public impression exists. But, of course, we know that a public impression cannot always be equated with the truth.

Personally, we are convinced that, by delving on this subject, our safety is not wholly ensured. In fact, we asked Director Train whether or not our safety is secured if we decide to dip our fingers into this issue. His commitment was not assuring, but he emphasized the need for media to be vigilant if society’s welfare is to be protected.

Nevertheless, we have decided to challenge our fear and come up with a public discussion on the incident, rather than to wait for society to defend and correct itself, if indeed what the public fears about is really correct.

Society has its own natural way of correcting the excesses of individuals, like how the Maguindanao Massacre did to the Ampatuans, but society’s self-correction processes are oftentimes extremely violent and costly, and, therefore, for us to wait for such process to take place is to find glory in our sadistic self-inflictions.

We have tried to get the side of Bong Acquia to lend certain objectivity on our discussion, but access to him is simply difficult at this time.

Nevertheless, this should not serve as an obstacle for this discussion. After all, our motive here is not to cast aspersion on the integrity of the person or persons involved in this discourse, but to protect the security and safety of the individuals, in particular, and the welfare of the public, in general, considering that the shooting incident is committed with certain level of impunity.

The election gun ban was still in effect when the shooting incident happened.

Our background information on Bong Acquia is rather sketchy. We first heard of him while he was directly intervening in the politics of Sarangani Province, where he seemed to have been given some crucial roles.

The basis for the privilege given to Bong Acquia by prominent politicians in Sarangani is not easy to decipher. He neither belongs to any prominent clan in Sarangani nor to any organization which is big enough to deliver a substantial number of votes to any politician.

But still, prominent politicians in Sarangani Province had entrusted him some high profile political roles.

Bong Acquia has lately served as the Chairman of the Oplan Kalikasan which is known to be the pre-2010 election campaign tool of the now incumbent Sarangani Congressman, Manny Pacquiao. As Chair of Oplan Kalikasan, he was reported to have engaged in a serious skirmish with Malungon Mayor Bong Constantino, resulting from their stern tug-of-war for the attention of the internationally famous member of the House of Representatives.

There are people who postulate that the alleged armed infrastructure, which is allegedly under the control of Bong Acquia, is the reason why some big-time politicians in the province were so interested with him, then.

In a province characterized by vast mountainous terrains and rugged political contours, armed infrastructures are necessary in all electoral battles. These terrains and contours resemble that of Sarangani Province.

Bong Acquia also served as the Chair of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) in Mindanao. It was reported that it was because of this influential position that he had been able to recruit many “anti-smuggling agents” from both the uniformed and civilian armed formations within the SOCSARGEN area.

We cannot, at this time, avail of any reliable information which could prove whether or not this group of “anti-smuggling agents” was later formed into a privately-operated armed formation, or it is just mistaken to be one.

It was also reported that it was because of his powerful position in PASG that Bong Acquia has succeeded to establish strong connections with high military and police officials at the national and local levels and solid networks among prominent and powerful business groups and institutions in the city and in some other parts of the country.

In fact, he is frequently seen with a prominent businessman-politician in General Santos City since the 2010 national and local elections.

Bong Acquia’s eventual replacement as PASG Chair did not result to the depletion of his influence among the powerful sections of the local military and police establishments. He was even reported to be currently wielding strong influence among high military and police officials.

City PNP Director Cedrick Train said he does not personally know Bong Acquia but confirmed that he has so many “friends” among the city’s police officials. “It is probably because he has been mingling with them for too long”, Train said.

However, he failed to explain the nature of Acquia’s business in the local police establishment and the reason why these police officers find him a “good company.”

There are those who suspect that Acquia’s connection is actually with police officials who acted as protectors of the gambling outlets which had openly proliferated in the city before, but which were closed down lately. While these police officers are said to be hibernating for now, they actually remain intact as a group, and are only waiting for an opportune time to revive their illegal ventures.

Meantime, they are reported to be working hand-in-hand with other social forces working for the ouster of anti-gambling officials from local power, with alleged backing from known gambling lords in Central Luzon.

Again, following the maxim that it would take a scoundrel to catch another scoundrel, this suspicion cannot still be proven by material evidence. But the powerful state’s protective and coercive apparatuses, unless they are among the tentacles of a gambling syndicate, must do something to unearth the truth, rather than passing the burdens to the media or to hapless private citizens.

Bong Acquia has no known business in the city, save his dealership of non-popular brands of four-wheel vehicles, but he remains capable of financing vast networks within the military and police establishment. He can even afford an expensive lifestyle and maintain a phalanx of armed bodyguards.

How he procures funds to maintain and finance expensive networks, coupled with a luxurious lifestyle, remains to be a guessing game for many.

The story that we told here may not be perfectly accurate. But, somehow, we are sure that it approximates the exploits of a man, somewhat feared by many and allegedly protected by some powerful hands.

We can only hope that this will start the full public unleashing of a man whose life, at least a substantial part of it, remains a mystery to many of us.  Certainly, his story is a great saga of a man, with an outstanding feat.

Our role here is only to ensure that such feat would benefit, and not prejudice, the public.

Do we put ourselves into danger by doing this? There might be possibility that we do, God forbids. But history has taught us that there are times when people are called upon to offer themselves into the altar of sacrifice to serve others and straighten out society.

Almost always, they were forgotten, with their families wallowing in the filth of poverty by their untimely demise, and with society unmindful of their pains and travails.

But, that is the reason why they are called heroes. Their offerings should always be for selfless motivations; otherwise, they do not deserve the social grandeur.

Heroism is a powerful drive that occurs on an individual in a given moment. The moment calls for it now!

Know our new MinDA chair

Posted: October 21, 2010 in Peace

Know our new MinDA chair

By Ben Sumog-oy

For the inhabitants of the SOCSKSARGEN region, the name Luwalhati R. Antonino has already become a household name. She had retired from mainstream politics since 2001, immediately after she finished her third term in the House Representatives, but her name has never escape public consciousness spanning various strands within our contemporary historical epochs.

Her appointment as the new chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), replacing Atty. Jesus Dureza, makes her name even more prominent, now invading the national political landscapes.

Popularly known formerly as Malacañang in Mindanao, MinDA came into existence by Virtue of the recent passage of Republic Act No. 9996.

Lu Antonino was lately given a thunderous applause, by a throng of people attending the Mindanao Business Conference (MBC), when former Senator Mar Roxas publicly announced that she had been appointed by President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to the highest public post in Mindanao, a position with a rank equal to that of a cabinet secretary.

The inter-generational perpetuity of the name Luwalhati R. Antonino is attributable not only to her family’s political grandeur, but also, and largely, to her character as a person, as a mother, and as leader to her own people. She, as is well known, rides gloriously on the splendors of her own achievements. Lu, as she is fondly called, is her own woman.

Lu is the wife of another political leader, former City Mayor and Congressman Adelbert W. Antonino, who is widely regarded as the primary architect of the radical transformation of General Santos City as one of the major economic corridors in the country. She is also a mother to a former Congresswoman and now an incumbent City Mayor of General Santos City, Darlene Magnolia R. Antonino-Custodio, who, owing to her no-nonsense positioning on major national issues and concerns, her high-profile development works, and to her intrinsic political charisma, has succeeded to decorate the national political stage.

Cynics had, at first, questioned the logic of Lu Antonino’s appointment to her new job, but their commentary had later on lost its sting, which has turned out later to be a magic spell that further strengthened the philosophical foundation of her installation to a grandiose position in Mindanao.

Lu Antonino does not fall from standard vis-à-vis her appointment as MinDA chair in terms of academic qualification. The Qualification Standard or the QS attached to the position of a MinDA chair requires one to be a member of the Philippine Bar or a holder of a Masters degree.

A holder of a Baccalaureate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Santo Tomas, Lu Antonino had pursued higher levels of education, until she earned not only one but two Masters Degrees: Masters Degree in Arts and Masters Degree in Business Administration. She earned all these degrees from the University of New York, New York, USA.

There are some people who asked, rather maliciously, how Lu Antonino’s Baccalaureate Degree in Chemical Engineering would play a role in the pursuit of a nagging political question in Mindanao.

Concededly, pursuing a theoretical or purely academic postulation along this lane is extremely difficult, considering that discourses of this nature are not in abundance, if not a rarity.

It is difficult, but it can be done. It is difficult, but the formula is simple. One only need to pay an analytical visit to Lu Antonino’s political narratives, embellished by the abundance of her experiences as a social researcher, a legislator and a development advocate.

Chemical engineering is defined as a branch of engineering that deals with the application of concerned branches of science to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms. In one aspect, the process requires the mixture or merger of various substances in order to make a new, but useful material. To undergo this process, one needs to be endowed with extraordinary talent and skills in creating a happy balance and perfect homology between and among, at times varied contra and cross-repelling, substances.

This applied theory in chemical engineering is perfectly relevant in social engineering works involving social classes, economic and political forces, and religious factions, which, almost always, embrace competing interests.

A study of her political and organizational history as a three-termed congressperson, and as a leader with extensive organizational and development experiences, would reveal how Lu Antonino displays an admirable savvy of combining and balancing varied, and diametrically opposing, thoughts into ONE universally accepted idea.

Unarguably, this kind of expertise in social craftsmanship is what we need today in Mindanao, an Island soaked into decades of social ferment, division and bloodletting.

Unless the different antagonistic social fibers that comprise Mindanao’s tri-people society are embroidered into one sympathetic whole, without defacing the integrity of each and every filament, a powder-keg, which is Mindanao, is still likely to burst into a social conflagration destroying every part of the Island and every piece of our dreams.

There is no question that her academic attainments are far above the standards attached to the post to which she was appointed. During her elementary and high school days, she was prominently placed on the topmost part of the academic list. She earned two relevant Masters Degrees in one of the most prestigious and respected universities in the United States.

But, it is not at all accurate to conclude that Lu Antonino’s expertise in social engineering is just a product of mere classroom initiations or of a wheel-chair theory development process.

It is an adeptness honed by actual lifetime experiences that enabled her to develop a high degree of social tolerance and natural impulses that abhor the devils of war and a powerful drive to contribute for the attainment of lasting and meaningful peace.

Lu Antonino was born and raised with a very conservative family in Kiamba, Sarangani Province – a municipality where the luring beauty of nature abounds. It is further made fancy by its enthralling beaches, by its placid springs, brooks and swamps and by its majestic mountain ranges which are host to thousands of living creatures, whose beauty and wonders prove the divine artistry of Someone Omnipotent.

However, despite its natural splendors, the Municipality of Kiamba had its share of the most detestable form of violence that characterized the ferments of the ‘70s.

It was during this decade that the Moro struggle for self-determination was first waged, having been triggered by the infamous Jabidah massacre. Kiamba then was not only considered as a zone of war, but it also served as a theater for actual combat. Destructions to property were pursued with impunity, and the killings were done en masse, in an almost genocidal proportion.

The spate of violence that frequently visited the Municipality of Kiamba during these trying times had prominently influenced Lu Antonino’s processes of acculturation as she passed through the different vicissitudes of her youth.

It is also during this troubled period that the young Lu Antonino had developed too much hatred for violence and for which she made a solemn pledge to contribute largely to the common efforts to end the bloodletting in Mindanao, if given a chance.

It would seem that her unexpected appointment as MinDA chair is a chance she had been waiting for since her childhood.

Her understanding of the situation in Mindanao was further bolstered when she served as the President of the Mindanao Legislators Association (MLA), and as she worked in consultation with various sectors in Mindanao in consonance with the discharge of her functions as a three-termed member of Congress. Her immersions with the different social sections in the Island further widened her appreciation of the Mindanao situation and the needs of its people.

There are few segments of society that had attributed certain fallacies to the appointment of Lu Antonino as MinDA chair in their vain attempt to discredit or demean the logic behind her appointment and cast aspersion on her integrity as a leader of Mindanao.

They questioned the propriety of Antonino’s appointment because of her active opposition to the establishment of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), an offshoot of the peace agreement forged between the GRP and MNLF during the incumbency of the then President, Fidel V. Ramos in 1986. She was unjustly labeled as an anti-Muslim because of her no-nonsense opposition to the establishment of the SPCPD.

This criticism is wholly misplaced. Lu Antonino’s opposition to SPCPD was not anchored on ethnic prejudice or bigotry nor a blatant repulse against the processes of peace, but on a perception that the Council would not simply work, and that it would only plunge the Moro people into the abyss of false hopes.

The eventual collapse of the SPCPD, even before it fully existed, and the corresponding demystification of its leader, Nur Misuari, rendering him totally insignificant in the political scheme-of-things in Mindanao, had ratified the correctness of Lu Antonino’s social positioning. What she feared all along had actually happened.

In addition, there are quarters which tried to force a comparison between the two leaders for the purpose of painting on the public consciousness that the former MinDA Chair, Jesus Dureza, is a better specie than the incumbent chair, Lu Antonino.

A comparison, especially if fraught with gender stereotypes, is an obnoxious game. No less than the eternal line in Desiderata is revealing of this sham: “Do not compare yourself with others for you may become vain and bitter for always there is a better or lesser person than yourself.”

But still we are pretty sure that if an objective comparison is to be made Lu Antonino could emerge as substantially different from or even better than her predecessor.

Surely, unlike her predecessor, Lu Antonino will not transform Mindanao into a plantation economy as a developmental approach to peace, considering its extractive nature, and its deadly impact on the life situation of the basic sector.

Surely too, unlike her predecessor, Lu Antonino will not cuddle the different factions of the Moro Elite and use them as an armed counterpose against the legitimate Moro causes so that the eventual reincarnation of a Frankenstein responsible for the Maguindanao massacre, and which eventually devoured the very government responsible for its creation is prevented.

Truly, we expect a different Mindanao under the auspices of the new MinDA chair.

(Note: The author is a former activist who is now writing a column in one of the leading newspapers in Mindanao and is finishing a law course in the MSU College of Law, General Santos City Campus.)

Bantay Ceasefire Calls on IMT to Stay

Posted: April 29, 2008 in Peace

If we need to kneel down before the principals and members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), we, all six hundred fifty volunteers of the Bantay Ceasefire will gladly do so if only to convince the IMT to stay. We speak as the sons, the daughters, the parents, the family and friends of the victims of armed conflict in Mindanao.  We speak on behalf of those who have the most at stake at its peaceful resolution.  We speak as the ones to pick up the pieces should the peace process completely collapse.
The pullout of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) led by the Government of Malaysia will clearly have dire consequences on the lives of people in the conflict-affected areas. As an independent grassroots ceasefire monitoring mechanism, Bantay Ceasefire saw how the presence of the IMT had dramatically improved the lives of civilians. The track record of the IMT in the last four years will show that it is indeed indispensable to the mechanism for cessation of hostilities and to the peace process. Before the IMT arrived, there were two all out wars in years 2000 and 2003 which displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.  Before that, there were major fighting in Camps Omar and Raja Muda, just to name two. After the IMT arrived, there were no major fighting let alone all-out war.  Last year, a full-blown war threatened to explode but was averted precisely of the IMT.
Records of the Joint Ceasefire Committee will show that prior to the coming of the IMT, we had over a thousand violations of the ceasefire agreement in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, however, these violations significantly dropped to less than 10 violations and we attribute this outstanding record on the strong presence of the IMT together of course with the hard work and commitment of the Joint Government and MILF Ceasefire Committee.
The presence of the IMT in conflict affected areas not only allowed the people to enjoy relative peace but also provided an environment conducive to peace negotiations.  It also allowed aid agencies to operate relatively free and unhampered in the conflict affected areas.
The decision to withdraw the IMT, while regrettable, is understandable.  Both the international community as well as the people of Mindanao do not deserve an open-ended peace process.  Prior commitments on the negotiating table must be respected.  It shows utter disrespect for the peace process and to those who have been helping move it forward to revisit and backtrack from prior commitments.
We are aware that there are powerful groups within and without the government, with vested political and economic interests in Mindanao, who feel that their interests are threatened by the peace process.  We are aware that the troubles the peace process have undergone these past years are brought about by their growing influence in the negotiations. We urge them to look beyond their self-interests for the good of the people of Mindanao and the Philippines.
Both the people of Mindanao and the IMT and international community have proven their commitment to a just and peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict.  We demand that the national government show the same commitment.  We demand that it should give the highest priority to the interest of just peace and not to vested interests.
It has taken so much hard work on the part of civil society and the international community to build a constituency for peace in Mindanao, to make people believe that a just peace is possible, and to generate confidence in the peace process.  Should the talks completely collapse, it will be well nigh impossible to restore that confidence.
Towards this end, we put forward the following calls and recommendations:
  1. For Philippine government and the MILF to resume the formal peace talks and sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain based on the agreed consensus points;
  2. For the Philippine government and the MILF to request the Malaysian government to extend the IMT’s tour of duty and reconsider its decision on the pull out of Malaysian troops
  3. Persuade Congress to legislate the postponement of the upcoming ARMM elections; this will allow sufficient time for the GRP-MILF peace talks to conclude the negotiations and complete the ongoing Tripartite Review of the 1996 Peace Agreement. We believe that these processes should not be overtaken by the ARMM election.
Above all, we appeal to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to push for the signing of a Peace Agreement with the MILF as a symbol of her long lasting legacy for the people of Mindanao.

To this we reiterate our campaign call: Let us Resolve the Mindanao Conflict, Sign and Implement Peace Agreement Now! (30)