Political noises that hurt peace

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Being sworn to uphold the 1987 Constitution when he became the highest elected official of the land, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) reiterated his commitment to never to allow dismemberment of Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines, nor diminish even a square inch of the country’s territory. During his Constitution Day speech last Thursday, PBBM vowed “to defend it against any and all threats, external and internal” even up to his dying breath.

But that’s overly dramatizing things when there could be a more sober dialogue among men of reasons to thresh out their differences.

In fact, PBBM bandied about his previous day’s talks with the present leadership of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) headed by Minister Mohagher Iqbal who once headed the secessionists group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A breakaway from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the MILF joined their brothers from the MNLF in a formal peace agreement with the government that gave birth to the BARMM.

The BARMM leadership and other political leaders of Mindanao have “repudiated this preposterous proposal,” according to PBBM in a direct reference to his immediate predecessor at Malacañang Palace who first floated this.

“The new call for a separate Mindanao is doomed to fail, for it is anchored on a false premise, not to mention a sheer constitutional travesty,” PBBM declared. “I strongly appeal to all concerned to stop this call for a separate Mindanao,” PBBM exhorted.

It is quite ironic though that our country’s Constitution – as the fundamental law of the land – is now being invoked by the actors in and out of the Charter change (Cha-cha) feud. While our lawmakers have been locked in word war over attempts through underhanded means of Cha-cha mode, a much sinister option is now being offered. At the height of the people’s initiative (PI) brouhaha, certain southern Philippine leaders are now spearheading calls to secede Mindanao from the rest of the Filipino nation.

In particular, former president Rodrigo Duterte and his allies renewed their past advocacy for a breakaway Mindanao from Luzon and Visayas and become an independent Republic altogether. Mr. Duterte raised this spectre at the heat of vehement stand against the PI taken by his own daughter, Vice President and concurrent Education Secretary Sara Duterte along with her brothers Davao City Congressman Paulo “Pulong” and Davao City Mayor Sebastian “Baste.” Ironically also, Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez whose ouster as Speaker was aided by then Mayor Sara, is leading the revival of the Mindanao Independence Movement.

For someone who is turning 79 years old next month, former president Duterte remains naughty on how he still plays his much vaunted political tricks from his retirement house in Davao City. I sensed Mr. Duterte’s usual tricks in politics in his latest Mindanao-secede tantrum threat. I’ve learned straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, some of his tricks in politics. Described by his closest advisers as a paradox, Mr. Duterte employs such techniques to determine possible result or to elicit reaction to a particular problem or situation.

During the early years of his presidency before the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Duterte used to invite selected journalists and political analysts to late night dinner sit-down talks at Malacañang Palace. I was privileged being invited in at least two occasions. Being a night person that he is, these sit-down talks usually started late in the evening and ended in the wee hours of the next day.

In one of these sit-down chats, Mr. Duterte shared with us one of his favorite political tactics: “shaking the tree and see what falls from it.” This tactic appears to be at play in the secede Mindanao threat of Mr. Duterte.

We could only wish Mr. Duterte is using this political strategy with well thought out calculated risks.

An erstwhile Duterte Cabinet official and at present PBBM’s National Security Adviser Eduardo Año warned to use the government’s “authority and forces to quell any and all attempts to dismember the Republic.” Yet Año strongly refuted earlier the Canadian advisory that categorized Mindanao as “avoid all travel” and “avoid non-essential travel” due to civil unrest, crimes, etc.

Methinks Mr. Duterte, a self-confessed Maranao, would not wish to see his hard work during the presidency to bring enduring peace in Mindanao to go to waste. Much more, he certainly would not want to see Mindanao as a bloody battlefield where Filipinos fight and kill fellow Filipinos. At least, Mindanao leaders like him can fight toe-to-toe in the political football field without loss of lives and limbs.

Mr. Duterte’s fellow Maranao in the Cabinet of PBBM, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman best exemplifies how the Mindanaoans are well placed in government to see through the peace and development in Mindanao. Pangandaman is the co-chair of Iqbal at the 17th Inter-Governmental Relations Body (IGRB) Meeting held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) last Thursday.

In the presence of PBBM during that IGRB meeting, Pangandaman signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the Takaful, or Islamic Insurance, between the Ministry of Finance, the DBM, and the Insurance Commission as part of the continuing efforts to establish regional offices in BARMM.

“All these efforts are directed at making Mindanao a shining example of peace and development in the Philippines,” she cited.

As a testament of the commitment to the Mindanao peace process, she pointed to PBBM’s recent signing of the Administrative Order (AO) that constituted a steering committee for the commemoration of the 650th Anniversary of Philippine Muslim History and Heritage to recognize the important role of Muslim Filipinos.

A woman Maranao leader, Pangandaman vowed: “Thus, we will not leave our future vulnerable to threats that will undermine the developments that we have painstakingly pushed. We must not forget that democracy requires solidarity. It means that as we strive for a better future for our country, we – a nation united despite religious differences – are all in this together.”

That’s the clarion call to all those Mindanao menfolk behind these braggadocio talks. Rather than engaged in noises that hurt proud leaders, peace and prosperity sound better through enlightened engagement over differences in politics.

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