An Appeal to all Citizens: Offer the Hand in Peace

(Mindanao PeaceWeavers Statement on the New Year’s Eve Bombing in Cotabato City)

Like all other political settlements, the signing of peace deals marks the start of a longer and more arduous path in sustaining its gains, legislating the agreements, and broadening the consensus. 

Four years since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace process has endured as it continues to navigate the journey with all its twists and turns, humps and bumps. At times, the challenges turn turbulent and deadly – like what happened on that fateful New Year’s eve in Cotabato City that snuffed the lives of two and harmed a lot more. 

The Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), and its allied networks and partners, strongly condemns this devious deed. We see this as a desperate and cowardly act of those who want to sabotage the peace momentum, sow confusion to further widen political and cultural fault lines, and instigate rage in the time leading up to the plebiscite on RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) on January 21 and February 6 this year.

The plebiscite embodies one of the culminating milestones in the democratization process unfolding in the Bangsamoro region. And it is incumbent upon all stakeholders who believe in negotiated peace settlements – with its complexities and risks – to guarantee that democracy can work even in a difficult phase of political transition.

With this unsettling incident, MPW is making an appeal for all citizens to assert our “moral compass”, defend the legitimacy and primacy of the peace process, and align towards a common vision for Mindanao. We firmly state the following calls:

  1. Stay the course in ensuring an inclusive political settlementamidst the challenges. Accompany and ensure that every political milestone warrants wider access and influence by civilians and communities especially those representing minoritized groups.
  2. Guarantee the defense of people’s rights and safeguard civilian protectionespecially in a fragile peace process and political transition. Civilian populations whether Moro, Lumad or Christian especially belonging to vulnerable sectors and groups, should be spared from violence and empowered to initiate local peacebuilding in addressing local tensions by themselves.
  3. Collectively work towards transforming a mature political life and rehearsing for “active citizenship”in the incipient Bangsamoro. This can be possible if the peoples of the region are enabled to make informed decisions starting with the plebiscite, and trust is (re)built by all beyond divides – ethnic, political, gender, class.
  4. Guard the gains of the peace processfrom desperate, malicious designs of those who manipulate the outcome of any political settlement for narrow interests.

In light of these calls, we recommend the following actions:

  1. We urge all Cotabatenos to exercise sobriety, magnanimity, and allow reason and dialogue to prevail specially during a crisis situation. Carefully study the results of any thorough investigation on the violent incident;
  2. Support and provide protection to civilian and community volunteers independently monitoring the plebiscite and advocating for electoral reforms;
  3. Encourage all political campaigners and volunteers to uphold the integrity of the political exercise by not reducing the plebiscite to a mere “political combat” of the “ayes and nays” of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The respect of political differences and positions should be guaranteed without use of fear, force and compulsion.  
  4. We urge the Supreme Court to decide immediately on the BOL petitions for ‘temporary restraining order’ (TRO) to taper uncertainty and restiveness. 
  5. We request the MILF and the BTC to take the moral high ground and respond judiciously to the issues raised in the petitions and the perceptions brought to the fore in public debate.
  6. Install joint early warning and quick response mechanisms especially involving independent civilian protection actors to prevent and manage the escalation of conflict due to the volatile situation. Monitor, document, and investigate all human rights violations/abuses inflicted against ordinary civilians especially from vulnerable groups and communities due to the rise of land-related disputes across ethnic lines.

The Bangsamoro plebiscite is but one of the several political milestones in the peace settlement, paving the way to embed the political territory, the installation of a transition authority and the eventual establishment of the Bangsamoro govern-ment.  But more so, the peace process imperativealso lies on an equally crucial parallel track – the Normalization phasewhich lays the foundation for the full transformation of the MILF forces towards a more productive civilian life as well as the pursuit on transitional justice and reconciliationtowards addressing historical injustices and the other root causes of the armed conflict.

Now is the time for the peoples in the future BARMM to exercise democratic leadershipat its finest and to overcome the lingering adversities with utmost vigilance and solidarity. 

Now is every citizen’s turn to offer the “hand in peace” in the run-up to the plebiscite and beyond.~ MINDANAO PEACEWEAVERS (MPW) 

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