Speech of Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles during the 24th Mindanao Business Conference

Friday, September 4, 2015 - 03:15


During the 24th Mindanao Business Conference: Winning the ASEAN, Gaining the Global Market
Mindanao Peace Process
By Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process 
3 September 2015


[Salutations] Happy Peace Month!

The holding of this event is very auspicious as we observe the 12th National Peace Consciousness Month this September. This year’s theme is “Pagkakaisa tungo sa Patuloy na Kapayapaan at Kaunlaran,” and aptly so: here we emphasize, first, that we cannot achieve peace and progress if we are not united, if we do not all do our part in what has so far been a difficult and elusive quest; and, second, that peace and progress are so intertwined that we cannot hope to achieve one without the other. 

And I must ask you to consider another case of intertwining here: this time with the Peace Month’s theme and the theme of your very own 24th Mindanao Business Conference: “Winning the ASEAN, Gaining the Global Market.”  That the themes are also intertwined is not just coincidental: we have always been firm in our belief that if the Philippines is to grow, if it is to gain a leading place within the Southeast Asian region and the entire global community, we will have to continually work towards the intertwined goals of peace and progress.

If we are to win the ASEAN, if we are to gain the global market, then we will need to build peace and progress.  To do this, we will have to remain united, and we will have to work with all hands on deck so that the government can successfully bring its comprehensive efforts to find peace to a successful conclusion. Then, just as we shared in the work of building, so shall we collectively reap the rewards of shared security and shared prosperity.

Let me then apprise you on the state of the two most prominent peace tables that the PNoy administration is working on as part of its agenda for genuine reform: the peace table with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front or CPP/NPA/NDF, and with the interlocked tracks with the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front under the comprehensive and inclusive Bangsamoro peace process.

Chapter 8 on Peace and Security of the updated Philippine Development Plan reads: “A politically stable and secure nation is necessary to achieve development and improve the collective welfare.” It is on this premise that I begin this morning with a discussion of a conflict line that has continuously affected some parts of the country, and now especially Eastern Mindanao—the  long protracted armed conflict with the CPP/NPA/NDF—and what the government has done and is willing to do to push this peace table forward towards a negotiated political settlement.

So, where are we now in the peace process with the communist rebels?

The simple answer is that we are at an impasse since June 2011.  What is not simple is the history of the talks that ushered us to where we are today—a history of disruptions, impasses, unresolved issues, and immovable paradigms that, after almost three decades, have thus far achieved a number of joint statements, procedural agreements, one substantive agenda signed—the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL—but nowhere near a final peace agreement.

After long, arduous years, the government has decided that we can no longer talk for the sake of talking; that it would be a disservice to our people, especially those caught in the middle of this violent strife, to engage in discussions with the communist rebels with no hope for peace or even a faint glimpse that the negotiations would eventually silence the guns.  It can no longer be business as usual. 

On this note, let me summarize the government’s position in three points:

First, despite the challenges confronting the peace process with communist rebels, this government has never left the negotiating table. We remain open and ready to resume the talks. But the government rejects preconditions for the resumption of negotiations that tend to mock the peace process. 

The CPP/NPA/NDF’s demand for release of prisoners, as a prime example, was meant to be a confidence-building measure for the peace negotiations. Out of the eighteen alleged peace consultants whom the NDF has demanded to be released, nine have in fact been released from detention from 2011 to 2014 under the Aquino administration.  Four of them, however, immediately returned underground to pursue active armed revolutionary work instead of helping in pushing peace negotiations.  Recent statements from the CPP/NPA/NDF assert that they will not go back to the negotiating table unless government releases some five hundred more alleged political prisoners charged with various crimes committed against the people.  Government maintains that peace negotiations should never be used as a wall to evade justice—for what is peace without it?

Second, the government believes that renewed talks should be bound by time and tied to a clear agenda that is doable within the term of the Aquino administration.  After three decades of negotiations, the government cannot go into indefinite discussions that lead us and our people nowhere closer to peace.

The government is willing to engage the other party and discuss the next substantive agenda after CARHRIHL—the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (or CASER).  But we maintain that, given the short runway left for this administration, the discussions should focus on a set of doables and ensure that we regain the integrity of the process by making the people on the ground feel its positive impact and relevance in their lives. 

And that is the last point: we must regain the confidence of our people in peace negotiations.  We must breed a brand of talks where words are translated into direct, immediate as well as longterm benefits on the ground, including and most especially, lowering the levels of violence which have disturbed and wreaked havoc in people’s lives for far too long.  Without this transformation, peace talks will cease to bear its meaning. 

With or without the peace negotiations—and we maintain that it is always better if the parties are talking instead of fighting—the government will continue to implement focused peace and development projects in conflict-affected communities, especially those never before reached by government, through service caravans and other convergence initiatives of national and local governments as well as the private sector.  We will continue to engage with our Norwegian Third Party Facilitator in finding means to open the possibilities of resuming peace talks. 

But calls to return to the peace table would end up futile if we don’t pursue a good and workable table that is anchored on a note of reality and builds on the lessons of past years of negotiations.  We cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.   

We cannot also forge peace alone.  In the end, we hope that the other party would answer our call for a renewed vision for peace: a peace that paves way for everyone to succeed and allows every Filipino to dream of a better Mindanao and a progressive Philippines.

Let us move, then, to the Bangsamoro peace process, which, I daresay, has seen considerably more progress compared to the peace table with the CPP/NPA/NDF. To push this peace process forward to its successful conclusion, we are now looking forward primarily to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in both chambers of Congress. 

Where are we in this peace process?   If you look at this roadmap you can see that we are in step 5, which seeks the passage of the BBL by Congress.  Both chambers are now holding their respective periods of interpellations, based on substitute bills crafted by their respective committees.  This will be followed by the period of amendments and the approval of the bills deliberated separately in the two chambers.  With the expected differences between the versions of the bills emerging from the two chambers, a Bicameral Conference Committee will be tasked to harmonize the two drafts into a basic law that we hope will be faithful to the vision of autonomy, as mandated in the Philippine constitution, to provide a just and lasting resolution of the long-festering Bangsamoro problem.  

This process was almost derailed when tragedy struck in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, early this year.  This tragedy claimed nearly seventy Filipino lives.  Fortunately, thanks to arduous work which has been been pursued by both parties on the table and on the ground,  the Bangsamoro peace process has built-in mechanisms that were immediately activated to ensure that the tragedy—effectively a breakdown of the ceasefire agreement—did not escalate into a full-blown armed strife.

Mamasapano presented our country with a challenge: a challenge to stand up for peace.  The public has responded, and we are pleased to note that, despite serious delays brought by the tragedy, the peace process now continues to move forward.  Deliberations in Congress have resumed, even if they are moving at a slower pace than we would have preferred.  The implementation of other aspects of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, or CAB, is also making progress. Most notably, for instance, even without the passage of the BBL, the decommissioning process has commenced as planned—further proof of the sincerity and commitment of the MILF to this peace process.  Here we can see the roadmap of the decommissioning process which will in a phased and calibrated fashion, under the watchful supervision of the International Decommissioning Body, ensure that the MILF armed forces and weapons are permanently put beyond use. 

Through this whole process, however, we have not left out the MNLF, the group with which the government signed a Final Peace Agreement in 1996. The Tripartite Review Process on the 1996 FPA, involving the government, the MNLF, and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation or OIC, is still ongoing, complemented by mechanisms for continued engagement between government and MNLF beyond the peace table.  For instance, the forty two (42) consensus points agreed upon in the review process have been incorporated and even enhanced in the proposed BBL.  The MNLF will be part of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the transitory governance mechanism that will take the place of the current ARMM government until the new Bangsamoro government is elected into office.  The MNLF is furthermore encouraged, just like the MILF, to contest the elections for the Bangsamoro regional government to be formed.  In pursuit of a common aspiration for peace and progress, dialogue between the MNLF and the MILF is also continuing under the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum facilitated by the OIC, and the MNLF socio-economic agenda are also addressed and enhanced within the over-all Bangsamoro Development Plan which has been launched with the support of government, the private sector, and international partners.   The provision of socio-economic interventions in MNLF camps also continue as they transition to peaceful and developed communities.  There is no lack of access to socio-economic programs for MNLF communities.  We have the implementation of the PAMANA program in these communities, the provision of social protection services for the MNLF and their next of kin, and the demobilization of MNLF arms and forces one camp at a time.

No less than the OIC has strongly shown that it fully backs the Bangsamoro peace process.  OIC Secretary General Iyad Bin Amin Madani recently visited the country to underscore that support and provide a common platform for the MNLF and the MILF so that both groups may finally move in common cadence towards achieving the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people through the Bangsamoro road map.

I know that this topic is also of enormous importance to many present here today, so allow me to allay the fears any of you might have with regard to Lake Lanao, so that we may get this issue out of the way.  First of all, let me clarify that the BBL upholds the rights of all Filipinos on Lake Lanao while at the same time acknowledging and respecting the Maranaos’ birth right to the ancient lake which plays a defining role in their identity and livelihood.

The original BBL tackles Lake Lanao in three different ways: as an inland water of the Bangsamoro, as a hydroelectric power source, and as a water resource. Here you can see how Lake Lanao will be accordingly managed, protected, and regulated by the national government, the Bangsamoro regional government, the provincial governments, and the municipal governments, respectively.

I have mentioned earlier that peace and progress are intertwined—and they are indeed two sides of the same coin that is the Aquino administration’s comprehensive peace process. Consider this: war is too costly, not only in economic but also in human terms.  Consider this: due to war, we lost 20 billion pesos annually from 1970 to 2011, totalling 640 forty billion pesos.  From 1970 to 1996, the government spent 73 billion pesos in combat expenses alone to fight the Moro National Liberation Front.  In 2000 alone, the all-out war policy cost us 1.3 billion pesos. 

It gets worse.  More than the loss in economic terms, we also bear the cost of war in human terms—and these are even more painful to bear.  Take, for instance, the displacement of persons.  In a 2012 report by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the displacement of persons recorded due to the 2000 all-out war was 982,000, while 600,000 were displaced in the aftermath of the failed MOA-ADin 2008.  Human casualties from 1970 to 1996 alone are pegged at 120,000 people killed—and 20% of these are civilians.

Just imagine for a moment how much growth and development we could have had if an uninterrupted peace had allowed us to spend all those billions, all those human resources, into greater, more worthwhile things.  This can still happen—and we believe that our best chance for that is to bring the Bangsamoro peace process to its conclusion and establish the Bangsamoro to improve the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.  We know, however well-intentioned it might have been, that the ARMM is not enough. Forty five years of conflict have already raged in Mindanao.  Hundreds of billions of pesos have been wasted.  More than 120,000 lives have been lost; 3.5 million have been displaced.  The ARMM is among the poorest regions in the country; illiteracy is disturbingly high; most households have no access to electricity and clean water; more than half of its population is unemployed.  We seek to change all these with the Bangsamoro peace process.

Yet we know that challenges still abound on the way ahead.  For instance, the Supreme Court has been asked to strike down the FAB and CAB as unconstitutional; criminal charges of treason and inciting to sedition were also filed against myself, the government peace panel, and members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

We believe this is part of the terrifying trajectory we observed in the aftermath of Mamasapano, when we saw the confluence of so much hatred and distrust; we see a blame-game targeted against the President; we see attacks on the peace panels; we see attempts at the destabilization of government and all institutions; the propagation of anti-Muslim bigotry; the lies, deceit, and misrepresentation by the spoilers, all leading to confusion among the uninformed.

We also face the challenge of a shortened timeline, with October as the earliest possible target deadline for the enactment of the BBL and its signing into law. The shortened runway to the establishment of the Bangsamoro presents new stressses and challenges to our resolve.  

And yet, despite these challenges, we never lose sight of our bottomlines: first, we remain committed to the goals of this process—forging a negotiated political settlement that will afford communities a higher quality of life, and ensuring that conflict-affected areas will benefit first and foremost from the dividends of peace.

Second, this process is a long road that started in 1976, and is still being forged until the present, building on past gains and ensuring institutionalization of agreements.

Third, the proposed BBL is one of the many target milestones in the peace process.  It is a critical milestone, but there are also corresponding interventions to ensure that the process is comprehensive, relevant, and inclusive—hence, the socio-economic interventions, normalization, transitional justice, and confidence-building measures.  In short, the BBL is not the “magic pill” that will deliver ‘peace,’ but is one of the deliberate and synchronized interventions of the process.

Lastly, the participation of everyone—not only those in the proposed Bangsamoro territory—is crucial to ensure the inclusivity of the peace process. As I have said earlier, we need all hands on deck.

Can we still do it?  Yes, I believe so.  It is on record: the two parties remain committed to the peace process. P.Noy retains substantial political capital—unprecedented in Philippine history—including political capital to ensure continuity in 2016. Top leaders of the most influential social institutions, led by churches, business, the academe, and so on are now speaking up. The international community is fully supportive and engaged. More importantly, ordinary Filipinos are standing up and taking action.  And with P.Noy leading the way, we at OPAPP continue to be willing to take all the blows—for our people, and for peace.

Again, the way forward will have no shortage of challenges—but we can still do it, especially as the passage of the BBL remains a top priority of this administration. Recent surveys say a majority of Filipinos approve the Aquino administration’s efforts in restoring peace in Mindanao.  NEDA forecasts that Bangsamoro will catapult our country’s economy to new heights. This is echoed by other studies; there is no question that the creation of the Bangsamoro holds much promise to boost the economy of Mindanao, a Mindanao that is a peaceful and prosperous place where all cultures and religions meet, interact, and intersect in harmony.  Here we again emphasize: the future of Bangsamoro is part of our country’s future, especially in terms of its place within the Southeast Asian region and the world.

This assertion is not simply unfounded optimism.  Consider the take of renowned economist Mr. Cielito Habito, former NEDA Director-General and Socio-Economic Planning Secretary, which he shared with you yesterday: that the BBL will unleash opportunities for the Bangsamoro region to join the ASEAN market as a strong player, given that the ASEAN market, which at the same time is moving towards greater and greater integration, remains dominantly a Muslim market. 

Here I must reiterate: if we want to win the ASEAN, if we want to gain the global market, we will have to build peace and progress collectively—and we will have to begin, here, in the Bangsamoro, and here, in Mindanao. 

The bright future of Mindanao, and of the Bangsamoro, is in our hands. Let us continue to delicately hold it, nurture it with care, until we can deliver it intact and in full bloom to our children. Nasa kamay natin ang matingkad na hinaharap ng Bangsamoro at ng Mindanao—at ito ay magiging posible lamang kung tayo ay magkakaisa tungo sa patuloy na kapayapaan at kaunlaran. 

Maraming salamat po.