'Should we disregard history, hard work on Bangsamoro law?'
MANILA, Philippines – Three major wars, 4 presidents, 11 government peace negotiators, more than 100 signed documents, and 17 years of "negotiations and problem solving."
For Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, these numbers reflect the hard work of both the government and the MILF to reach a final peace agreement that will culminate in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
But the botched Mamasapano operation has put the law’s future hanging in the balance.
"Is this too short a period, an easy engagement, that many people – including some legislators – can easily call for a new negotiation?" Iqbal asked in his speech before the graduating class of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (XU) on Thursday, March 26.
"Should we disregard history and the long and hard work into crafting the BBL? These are tough questions which every Filipino and Bangsamoro must answer in the next few days."
Iqbal, together with presidential peace adviser Teresita Quintos Deles and government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, received university awards from XU during the 2015 Baccalaureate Mass and University Convocation on Thursday.
In light of the Mamasapano incident, students were initially divided on their school’s decision to confer an Honorary Doctorate to Deles, and the Fr William F Masterson SJ Award to Iqbal and Ferrer.
Youth's role in the peace process
Iqbal was aware of the apprehension, but made no mention of the January 25 incident in his acceptance speech.
On January 25, 392 commandos of the Philippine National Police's Special Action Force conducted an operation to arrest two high-value targets, alleged bomb makers Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan, and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.
The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that killed Marwan, but also claimed the lives of 44 SAF troopers, 18 MILF members, and 5 civilians. (READ: TIMELINE: Mamasapano clash)
Instead, Iqbal spoke to graduates on Thursday about his personal journey when he began immersing himself in the milieu of the 1970s: "the Bangsamoro question."
He also talked about the context of the armed conflict in Mindanao, and the start of the peace process in 1997, when the Ramos government signed a "general cessation of hostilities" with the MILF. (READ: TIMELINE: The long road to the Bangsamoro region)
The signing took place, coincidentally, in Cagayan de Oro City where XU is now located.
"Frankly speaking, peace is not an easy endeavor. The truth is that it is easy to make war than to make peace. In war, one party can start war, but in peacemaking, it requires both parties to agree to talk," he said.
He urged the graduates to speak up, ask questions about the peace process, and propose solutions.
"Come to think of it, my dear graduates, it is you, the youth and the young of today, who will reap the fruits of peace in the future....The future is yours. You have a stake in it," he added. – Rappler.com