I will say that the prospects for peace in the Philippines have never been this good. It is better than it has been for a very long time at least. And the reason for it is because of the political climate and the new political leadership. We have a political leadership that is keen not just to sign the agreement, but is also committed to the governance essential to the implementation of any agreement. We have a political leadership whose first and last question is: what do our communities on the ground need?
It is important to find shared solutions that will last. The lessons we have learned some 25 years ago, when the peace constituency first emerged in our country, are the enduring lessons that continue to guide us in our path today. Let me just share two in particular.
One, that peace is not just made on the negotiating table while the people on the ground are just waiting for what will happen. The building of peace corridors with the local stakeholders and the victims of conflict have remained high in our priority. When I was in the civil society, and even more frequently when I joined the government, I visited communities and sometimes spent the night with them. I met with Bangsamoro civil society representatives and bakwet, the local term for evacuees, who had been the most vocal to meet with the President and other national officials to raise their concern and voluntarism for peace. Whenever possible, I spend hours to get to know our dialogue partners on the other side of the negotiating table, including, if necessary, all the factions that want to sit on the table. I attend Muslim celebrations and ritual and initiated the creation of Salam Police for all the land order problems in Muslim communities in urban centers. I carry the good news about the government’s peace plan by speaking at regional and provincial conferences and dialogues, as well as by regularly granting interviews with the local and national media.
Time and again, our local communities have renewed their commitment for peace, the ceasefires have held. With grateful and humble heart, we have returned to the negotiating table, to start once more the rebuilding of communities scattered by the outbreak of hostilities two years ago.
We cannot forget the villages of mothers and fathers, children, and elderly who suffered the painful impact of armed fighting, that burned down their houses and fields, that have torn families apart, and killed innocent civilians including children. I am thankful to them for the ceasefires held to the mechanisms that put back into place with a combined hard work and determination of everyone.
Waging peace has never been easy and the people of Mindanao probably know this better than anyone else. Yet citizens and communities have not failed in standing up again and again. Despite having walked on often fractured and fragile path to peace, our different peoples have persevered, with further resolve they engaged for the long haul knowing that shortcuts and fixers may work for the moment, but will really not hold.
Second, is a note that we are crafting a peace shared by all. And, in the process our appreciation of the distinct but complementary roles of the different stakeholders has become deeper and palpable. I hope the relationships we have built based on dignity, mutual trust, and respect will continue to hold, especially in times when the grounds we stand on will become unsafe, as we are sure they will be in some point.
In ending, let me share with you, on a personal level, the need to sustain ourselves in this work. Peacemakers, being human beings, can get tired too. So we need to attend to our own rituals of renewal, and find new sources of strength and inspiration so that we can sustain ourselves in this service, which we know will still continue for the long haul. For some of us who have been in this work for more than five decades, the sense of impatience can set in, even as we know there are no shortcuts to achieving a just and lasting peace. It helps much to have a sense, every now and then, of the strides we’re making, and the markers of our incremental successes whenever and wherever it happens.
I continue to be surprised, and to be inspired too, by many stories of the quiet, conscientious, heroic work of peace-building and peace-making on the ground, by the ones some of whom may be obscure or little known beyond the communities whom they serve.
The daily toil and toll of keeping and making peace can challenge even the most persevering among us. It’s not an easy job to keep the parties to a conflict to be consistently committed to dialogue, and to keep reminding them until you are red in the face that there are other ways of resolving issues than just by force of arms.It is not easy, but we persevere, because our people cannot afford to suffer again and anymore.
The peace process is sustained by hope; it is the trademark of all peacemakers. And, you can explain better that I can how hope is intimately connected to faith. Someone named Robert Brault had said, “At the point where hope would otherwise become hopelessness, it becomes faith.”
Peace be with us all.
Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process
(*Excerpt from the Sec. Deles' message during the 9th Quaker International Gathering, April 2, 2011)