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A Bright Prospect for Peace for the Filipino People

A Statement of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum in Support of the Peace Efforts of the Duterte Administration
June 20, 2016

The rise of the President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to the highest office in the land portends peace to our country which has been wracked by violence for decades if not centuries now.

The Muslims arrived in Sulu in the 9th century as a result of the massacre of the Muslim Arabs in Canton in 877 AD (The Struggle of the Philippine Muslims: A Historical Perspective by Dr. Darwin T. Rasul III). From thence Islam began to take root in the islands. In 1450 the Sultanate of Sulu was established, followed by the Sultanate of Mindanao in the 16th century.

With trading the Muslims spread their religion to Mindoro, Palawan, Manila and the rest of Luzon. Had there been no interruption, Islam could have been the religion throughout the islands. And the Filipino Muslims could have lived in peace.

The coming of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century, however, disrupted life for the Muslims. The Spaniards were able to conquer most of Luzon and the Visayas with their sword and cross. They also attempted to vanquish Muslim Mindanao, but the more organized natives fought back fiercely. Those sent to vanquish them, like Capt. Figueroa, were instead killed by Moro fighters, including the famous slay of Magellan by Lapulapu. The Spaniards never conquered the Muslims and Mindanao remained to be their land.

Meanwhile, throughout the islands, Andres Bonifacio organized in 1896 the Katipunan (Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan in full, or KKK), a nationwide revolutionary movement to liberate the country from the oppressive and exploitative hands of the colonizers.

In 1898, on the verge of defeat, the Spaniards surrendered, not to the Filipino revolutionaries unfortunately, but to the Americans who pretended to be protectors of the revolutionaries but actually became the new colonizers.

In the Treaty of Paris which was signed between Spain and the US in December 1898, the Philippines was ceded by the former to the latter at the cost of $20 million. Mindanao, which was never colonized by Spain, was part of the territories given to the US.

The Muslims once again resisted colonization. The US, however, more cunning and deceptive than Spain, managed to subjugate the Muslims not through military force, but through the use of the divide-and-rule and the carrot-and-stick tactics. They established a Moro province which was supposed to take care of the needs of the Moro people, but in effect was a way to administratively colonize the Moro people.

They offered amnesty to Moro “rebels”, set up an education program which granted to sons and daughters of Moro leaders free higher education which effectively changed their values and culture to embrace America, and put up foreign government brought by settlers from North Luzon, and started the exploitation of Mindanao’s rich resources. Through the Torrens land titling, the Filipino Muslims lost their land which became public land. Their territories including their ancestral land, are controlled by elite settlers and foreign multinational corporations ((Guiamel M. Alim in The Bangmoro Struggle for Self-Determination, June 1995).

When the US granted “independence” to the Philippines, Mindanao was included under the national government despite the protests of the Muslims.

In order to regain their land and freedom, they organized armed resistance against the Philippine government: the Moro National Liberation Front, its breakaway Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and lately the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Now, six (6) centuries later, the Bangsamoro is still struggling for their land, life and self-determination.

On the other hand, the Filipino people led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, are waging an armed protracted people’s war. Started in ‘60’s, the armed resistance is now on its fourth (4th) decade.

To be sure, there were already attempts by previous governments to forge peace with Muslim Mindanao and the CPP-NDFP-NPA, but these did not last. Governments seemed more interested in surrender rather than lasting peace.

The ascent of a President Duterte who had shown true friendship with the rebels from both groups in Mindanao gives hope to the Bangsamoro and the Left that genuine peace based on justice is possible.

The GPH Peace Panel has already been formed and had started working. On June 14-15, they had initial talks with the NDFP panel in Oslo, Norway on resuming the formal peace talks.

As far as the Bangsamoro is concerned, incoming President Duterte had a talk with representatives of the MNFL and MILF on June 17 in his desire to achieve a lasting peace in Mindanao.

After six centuries as far as the Moro people are concerned, and after four decades as far as the Left are concerned, peace, genuine peace may at last see the dawn!

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum supports the effort of the incoming Duterte administration to forge peace with Bangsamoro and the Left and unify the whole Filipino people towards progress and peace.

At this point, let us be reminded of the words of the Psalmist:

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful,
to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
Righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground’
And righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
And will make a path for his steps.”
(Psalms 85:8-13, NRSV)

Issued and signed this 20th day of June, 2016.