by Samira Gutoc-Tomawis
Author Samira Gutoc-Tomawis with a friend at the entrance of Malacanang after the signing of the Framework Agreement between the government and the MILF
THE TRUTH IS I do not know where to start. Overwhelmed with developments in the past week, I wanted desperately to write down every single moment leading to Monday, October 15 2012, when the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sign the Framework Agreement establishing a clearer roadmap for the journey to peace. To some of you, it is just news; to those of us who have grown up in the midst of conflict, these are extraordinary times that need to be recorded before they fade from memory.
But the pen can be a cruel tormentor, especially when it vies for your affection with the other things that also need to be done. Peers from Refrom ARMM Now (RAN) were joining a convoy for the 60-hour Lakbayan caravan from Cotabato to Mendiola. I also had to meet the Women’s Peace Table on the same day, and have another dialogue with United Nations representatives.
So please bear with me as I try to recall the heady events leading to the day the Agreement was signed.
Two days before the ceremonial signing of the Framework Agreement in Malacanang, I remember being at the NAIA Terminal 3 airport waiting for my flight to Cotabato. I was just lounging around, savoring the historical value of the agreement that was to be signed on Monday. At the boarding area, I was glad to see Caucasian parents towing their toddlers along. In my heart, i really wished that they were headed to Cotabato, the seat of the Autonomous Region, a region which is not in the tourism map, not in National Bookstore postcards nor vacation itineraries. I found myself hoping that social media might have popularized the Bolkiah mosque in Cotabato enough to welcome a rare visiting foreign family.
Then, at the airport in Cotabato on Sunday, just one day before the signing, I saw the line of MILF leaders and women coordinators boarding jam-packed Philippine Airline flights to Manila. PAL had to arrange for two flights today instead of the usual one flight just to accommodate the surge of people headed to Manila to witness the historic event.
It was interesting watching these rebel leaders boarding the aircraft; some of them are riding an airplane for the very first time, after decades of fighting in the mountains and marshlands of Central Mindanao.
Aboard the flight from Cotabato, I felt an unspoken happiness in the air. No one wanted to say it out loud, possibly for fear of bursting the bubble, but this was clearly a moment to be remembered and treasured. I was lucky to converse with Prof. Abhoud Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and an MILF negotiator. How do you feel? I asked. Professor Lingga was careful not to betray too much emotion. He made it clear that much still has to be done to make the peace process work. But inside me, I knew that this was as much of an emotional moment for him as anybody whose waking moment is writing about the Bangsamoro.
Big buses brought the MILF to Malacanang. The formality of commanders in pressed suits was certainly a sight to see; not a hint of camouflage in sight for any of the old warriors! The smiles I saw in each of them were jarring for me; for decades I had gotten used to the wrinkles of sadness on their faces from the frustration of dealing with insincere regimes.
Inside the Palace, the conversations while waiting for the President to arrive were inspiring. A UK diplomat credited MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal’s courage and government negotiator Marvic Leonen’s articulation of the problems as key in the success of the talks. I overheard many non-Moro conversations saying, this will be good for Mindanao. Finance Sec. Cesar Purisima said it will be more fun in Mindanao.
The uniformed generals were unusually smiling. Muslim yuppies, for their part, were wondering how to get the requisite photos (for Facebook?) because the ubiquitous cameras were not allowed inside.
The hour in the hall was a lifetime of work for those who toiled in the talks. When Peace Sec. Ging Deles shared the story of Salama, a girl who had to stop schooling to avoid the bullets, that very moment in Malacanang was a cellphone moment to freeze. It was that very moment when I really wished I had snuck in a camera. When it is no longer Moros who defend the Moro rights, something must have already transformed. A general had shed a tear listening to the common humane aspirations for dignity. MILF Chairman Al-Haj Murad sharing his humble note on not believing he would ever step in Malacanang was touching. A light moment was when he acknowledged Kris Aquino. President Aquino paying tribute to those who died in this conflict capped the historical memory as so did the Malaysian Prime Minister.
Bangsamoro… bakwit (evacuee)… Peace Agreement … OIC … ICG. To those in Manila , these may be foreign words just like Cotabato being alien to a backpack traveler. But to those who have lived the lore of the Bangsamoro, these words are not hollow nor could one claim detachment from the Monday signing. Sure, naysayers and those in the know would discourage euphoria. But hey peepz, this is already the President, the highest official of the land pronouncing what often would be an exotic even underground term as Bangsamoro. Bangsa combined with the word Moro is loaded. Literature by Moro writers would orient on the ancient pride in the Nationhood of a people uncolonized to this day in consciousness.
The Framework Agreement was finally signed at three in the afternoon of October 15, 2012. Three in the afternoon is also a time for Muslims to pray the mid-prayer of the day. Thank you Almighty. You are truly great.
Mindanews.com editor Carol Arguillas who followed every step of the peace talks, deserves the clap that people had heaped on the negotiators, Malaysia , the International Contact Group (ICG) and the President. To those who want to believe and help in ending one of the longest revolts in the world, help create a space for Bangsamoro to be discussed. The work has yet to start.
And so after the signing ceremony, off I went to Mandarin where civil society groups reflected on the next steps after the Signing. Understanding requires work, research, study and programming. After the Hijab Run for Peace of fellow Young Moro Professionals (YMP) at EDSA, a Moro Fashion Show might be the next project.
See you there!
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, who describes her political views as “Liberal, but grounded in Faith,” is a long-time contributing writer of the PCIJ. She has also been active in Mindanao civil society and peace crusades. She is now a Sectoral Representative for Women at the Regional Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.