Monday, August 18, 2008

The price of peace

This was my column last Wednesday, July 13. Late post. Sorry.

One of the greatest ironies in this world is that in order to attain peace one must prepare for war.

We can all romanticize peace as a concept, join hands and sing “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” with fervor until we come to our senses and realize it takes more than good intentions to make it happen. But we all know, both from a theoretical as well as from a real-world perspective, that attaining peace and making it last is a complicated, frustrating, contentious, and sometimes—and perhaps inevitably —a violent process. It’s never been easy. It won’t be easy. It’s important that we remind ourselves how elusive and thorny the quest for peace really is just so we appreciate the great sacrifices required of all stakeholders in the process.

The price we have to pay to attain peace is high. The question is: Are we willing to pay it?

There are many reasons why peace is difficult to achieve, but for purposes of this piece, let’s focus on the fact that attaining peace requires extreme self- sacrifice. It requires that everyone, most especially those directly involved in the potential or real conflict, come to the table with the intent to listen and understand rather than simply being listened to and being understood.

It is also important to remind ourselves that various roles need to be played in the process. We can’t all be negotiators.

And what’s more, it is imperative that everyone else, particularly kibitzers and hangers-on, heed the same advice. I know that it is an issue that involves all Filipinos. But for crying out loud, we don’t have access to the same facts and the same information as those directly involved in the conflict and in the negotiation, so our perspectives are not the same. It’s best to acquire a multi-dimensional perspective of the issues before shooting our mouths off.

Unfortunately for us, asking our leaders—most particularly political leaders—and the other influential sectors such as the media to stop talking and to suspend judgment for a while so that they may understood where the other party is coming from, is like asking them to hold their breath for an hour. We might as well ask them to commit suicide. Based on what we see everyday, we have a long line of people who fancy themselves as ultimate experts on anything and everything and who want to fulminate no end. They don’t want to listen. They just want to be heard.

What is even more alarming is the way certain sectors have attempted to read more into the issues than what is actually there. I grant that there are compelling reasons why we Filipinos must continue to be vigilant, foremost of which is that it seems that that’s the only remaining viable means to make this government behave with some semblance of honesty and decency.

However, there is definitely a whole ocean of difference between being vigilant and being paranoid. Some people just don’t seem to see the difference. Some people have simply lost the ability to objectively distinguish facts from fiction.

Which is why I am dismayed, but not really surprised, at the current turn of events around the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao and over the proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain that is being forged between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

I am not going to comment on the memorandum of agreement per se because just like the millions of other ordinary mortals in this country, I haven’t seen a copy of this document in question. I know that the manner in which this document has been shrouded in secrecy invites all kinds of suspicions and has in fact sent a number of hyperactive minds into paroxysms.

I must admit that I am also as critical as everyone else of this cloak and dagger approach to something of earthshaking significance. However, I am also of the opinion that confidentiality on certain critical issues is integral to any negotiation. It’s a double-edged sword. Providing too much information is just as dangerous as withholding critical information. As it is, very little about the exact contents of the memorandum is known and already a lot of people have spun all kinds of doomsday scenarios. Imagine what it would be like if all points of the agreement was to be disclosed to the public during the negotiation and prior to the signing and without the benefit of a carefully designed information campaign and ample time for discussion!

It’s a memorandum of agreement— it’s a documentation of the consensus points arrived at by the negotiating panels. It’s not legally binding because it has to be submitted for approval by the Filipino people through a referendum. Any negotiation has to end with such a document, to be submitted to the appropriate approving authorities for ratification and approval. The negotiating panels represented the republic but they are not the Filipino people.

Of course there is a need to explain the contents of the memorandum of agreement and to educate everyone about it eventually. As already contented, it’s not legally binding until it’s been ratified by the people through a referendum. And as already explained many times by the members of the negotiating panels, public discussion will have to be conducted prior to the referendum so that the people can be enlightened on the issues. There is still ample room for constructive debate. The people can certainly trash it at the polls if needed.

This is not the impression that most people are getting from the way certain sectors are hyperventilating on the issue. Here’s a sampling of the doomsday scenarios that are being peddled out there: (1) The Republic will be dismembered and the identified areas of ancestral domain will become a separate republic/state/country depending on who is hyperventilating; (2) Christians in the identified areas will be expelled from these areas, dispossessed of their legal properties, etc; (3) That the whole process is actually a Trojan Horse designed to resurrect Charter Change movement and extend the term of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

All three are, without doubt, scary scenarios. But are these scenarios anchored on facts or mere speculative drivel? Indications point to the latter. But then again, that has not stopped people from adding on to the conflagration. Like I said, people are not listening. They simply want to be heard.

And we wonder why peace remains an elusive concept in this country.

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