Assalamualaikum! Maayong buntag sa atong tanan. Magandang araw po sa lahat.
Congratulations and daghang salamat to Kusog Mindanaw for spearheading this gathering of peace advocates, ***FORMER COMBATANTS, government officials, private organizations, grassroots representatives, and civil society groups and international organizations supportive of the Mindanao Agenda.
Over the years, Kusog Mindanaw and its partners provided the country and the international community with a platform to look at Mindanao from the perspective of the Mindanaoans, highlighting the struggle for recognition of the Moro and Lumad rights over their lands and territories, the longing for peace and the end of wars, or the dream of experiencing meaningful development and progress.
I know that many of you here have advocated for the end of the Moro rebellion all your lives — working tirelessly, and fearlessly with leaders of the Moro groups, leaders and members of communities, grassroots organizations, other peace advocacy groups and institutions, and the so-called “Peace Doves”.
Peace Doves, I was once told, were top government officials, maybe members of the cabinet, or ranking military officials, who were supportive of the calls for the end of war.
And there were War Hawks — also top government officials, maybe members of the cabinet, or ranking military officials, who were exactly the opposite of Peace Doves.
Some of you here may have witnessed the signing of the peace agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Philippine government under the leadership of the late President Fidel Ramos in 1996.
And some of you have also been there when the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government under the leadership of the late President Benigno Aquino in 2014.
Both presidents are no longer with us, but I believe that some of those who worked with their Peace Doves continue the Mindanao peace advocacy works even today.
Mindanao had been considerably quiet for quite a time now.
After the signing of the peace agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government in 2014, there have been no major wars in Mindanao.
During the time of President Rodrigo Duterte, with the exemption of the foiled siege of Marawi City by supporters of a notorious international terror group, Mindanao has been relatively silent.
The incidents of kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf Groups under President Duterte — zero.
While we had to deal with radicalized groups behind terror attacks in Mindanao, including the bomb attack that killed civilians in Davao City in 2016…and the intensified military campaign against the New People’s Army, practically, we have seen zero deployments of massive number of soldiers to Mindanao for a government-initiated all-out-war.
We have been told that there’s a time for everything. I believe it’s ‘peace harvest season’ for us now in Mindanao.
The seeds of peace that you have planted all these years, the seeds of peace watered by the blood of Filipino martyrs who fought against each other, the seeds of peace nurtured by your sacrifices and bravery and that undying fire I see in your eyes — they have grown and their flowers now in bloom.
You have all the reasons to be proud of the tremendous job that you have done for Mindanao and your fellow Mindanaoans.
After all, as we all know already, it takes many years and many wars and countless lives of armed fighters, soldiers, and civilians — all of them Filipinos — to grow peace, watch it bloom, and celebrate its glory.
Peace is a delicate, fragile beauty. It needs constant attention. In the case of Mindanao, it does not only need our continuous attention. It needs our constant, collective attention.
If causes of conflicts are left unresolved, a minor clash, perhaps between an armed group and government soldiers perhaps, somewhere in Maguindanao, could quickly escalate into a war that could potentially result in deaths and the displacement of civilians.
If ignored, a terror group’s activity, although it might appear harmless on the surface, could explode into something deadly — and may reduce a proud city into decay.
Why I am emphasizing Mindanao peace in this conference today because peace in Mindanao remains to be on top of the Mindanao agenda.
Mindanao continues to hold so much promise. I know this for a fact being a Mindanawon myself.
And Mindanao, my home, our home, will forever be trapped in a miserable state of underdevelopment, and most of its people, living in various conditions of poverty, if we do not protect the gains of peace that you have painstakingly labored for all your lives.
Borne, raised, and having moved around many places of Mindanao — reaching former conflict areas and seeing battle scars around — I know that Mindanao has had enough of the madness of wars.
It should be a thing of the past, a dark chapter in our history as a people. War in Mindanao should be remembered only to remind us of why we should all work together and commit, protect, and defend peace at all costs.
Harvest time — peace time — is a good time for us. It allows the government to address problems that, if not given appropriate attention, could be exploited by terror groups to foment anger and incite people to resist the government, resort to violence and join their cause.
Poverty is a mainstay in the playbook of the NPAs in their recruitment of people to join their cause against the government.
That’s the reason why we implemented the Peace 911 Program in Paquibato District — with the help of ma’am Irene Santiago — and we succeeded in eliminating the insurgency problem in the area.
In my experience in politics, I have realized that the antidote to war is good governance. And good governance breeds public trust.
When people see government officials working with integrity, professionalism, and dedication to public service — they no longer see sense in causes that espouse violence.
The Mindanao Agenda is a Philippine Agenda.
How do we sustain that requires unified action and our collective voice.
And only through that that we will be able to keep the flowers of peace in Mindanao forever in bloom.
Shukran. Daghant salamat.