MEDIA ON MINDANAO: Revisiting Mamasapano and the BBL
By Melinda Quintos de Jesus and Luis Adrian Hidalgo
Photos by Luis Adrian Hidalgo
IN COTABATO: MEDIA FROM MANILA AND MINDANAO
AT LEAST 50 journalists and media practitioners based in Manila and Mindanao attended the forum “Beyond Mamasapano: Reporting on the Bangsamoro Peace Process” in Cotabato City last July 24-25. The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law was still in limbo. Although House Bill 5811 had been finalized, the Senate was still sitting on its revisions. As the coverage in Manila shifted to other national issues, the public may have wondered, if not forgotten, about the challenge posed by this policy question.
The forum served as a timely reminder for media, presenting them with the perspective of the communities in Mindanao, especially those most affected by the failure of the peace process. The meeting was also intended to help journalists and media practitioners understand Mindanao—appreciate its cultural diversity and be informed about the efforts to sustain solidarity and unity among the Mindanaoans. In the two days, there were panel discussions, site visits and cultural exposure. Speakers at the forum highlighted the role of the media in peace-building and emphasized its critical role in creating informed public opinion.
Mindanao Media Forum, which organized the event, was established in 2002 as a result of the first Mindanao Media Summit, with MindaNews as its secretariat. The program was done in partnership with the Institute of Autonomy and Governance, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Oxfam, the Embassy of Canada, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Friends of Peace, MindaNews, Balay Mindanaw, Mindanao Cross, Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation, I-Watch, and the Philippine Information Agency.
Resource persons from civil society, members of the Bangsamoro Study Group, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), staff and officials of the ARMM and the OPPAP, as well as the International Monitoring Team updated the press and shared observations about the press coverage of the Mamasapano incident and its impact on the peace process.The gallery was not found!
The first panel discussion on the first day presented views from civil society, including the concerns and grievances of indigenous peoples, the dilemmas journalists face when reporting on Mindanao, and the lessons to be learned from the Mamasapano incident.The gallery was not found!
Panelists discussed the mistakes and bad practices of journalists and media practitioners when reporting on Mindanao. Professor Cagoco-Guiam pointed out, among others, stereotyping, labeling, improper use of terms, misrepresentation, and lack of context. Guiamel Alim, executive director of Kadtuntaya Foundation, lamented the media’s failure to give voice to, and report on those who needed the most attention—the grieving widows of the MILF, the thousands of internally displaced persons or bakwit who languished in evacuation centers, and the Bangsamoro people’s call for justice. Timuay leader, Santos Unsad, complained that the media seem to give little or even no attention to indigenous peoples’ issues. He also claimed that some media practitioners do not even talk to indigenous groups before publishing stories about them.
The second panel focused on problems faced by the peace process as well other difficulties experienced by the people of Mindanao.
Anna Basman, chief legal counsel of the Government Peace Panel, discussed the effect of the delay in the Congress on the general opinion on the BBL as well as the impact of the delayed implementation of the Normalization Annex which had already been agreed upon on the peace process over all. Meanwhile, Laisa Alamia, executive secretary of ARMM, discussed the current condition in the existing autonomous region, emphasizing the poverty in different areas, making these communities more vulnerable to natural hazards, and armed conflict. She also pointed out the structural infirmities of the ARMM, particularly when it comes to the incomplete devolution of agencies and departments in the ARMM—from national to regional, and from regional to the local government units. Alamia also noted the gaps in the implementation of projects and absence of facilities such as hospitals, fire stations, and police stations in areas that needed it most. Problems and delays in the disbursements of budget was also an issue.
The Bangsamoro Study Group, composed of lawyers Naguib Sinarimbo, Ishak Mastura and Raisa Jajurie assessed the revisions in the economic and political provisions in the House-approved BBL (HB 5811), stressing the need to keep as closely to the original language. Noting the hard line taken by the group, those familiar with the recommendations made by the Peace Council, another group of civil society leaders who reviewed the BBL draft, saw how some revisions would be required to enforce the constitutionality of the law. CMFR noted that the revisions made by the House were more expanded than those recommended by the Peace Council.
Site Visit: Recalling the Tragedy with a Blessing in the Cornfield
On the final day of the program, exactly six months after the incident, the participants visited the fields planted with corn in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, situated in marshland some 66 kilometers from Cotobato City.
The visiting journalists saw a different site on the day of their visit from the landscape of the tragedy. A concrete road that crosses through a cluster of houses from the river was nearing completion. A steel and concrete bridge, while still under construction, would clearly ease access and exit for the people of the area. The villagers asked that the bridge not be big enough to allow crossing of tanks and APCs. About a kilometer from the old makeshift footbridge, a dirt road was piled on a shallow area to provide yet another option for pedestrians and tricycles.The gallery was not found!
Meeting the MILF Chief
Following the site visit, the group engaged in a dialogue with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairperson Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Camp Darapan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.
The chairman looked relaxed, smiling as he welcomed the media group. He talked about the plans beyond BBL, sharing a broad forward vision for the MILF and the peace process. Yes, he pointed out, it would make things easier if the BBL proves acceptable to both sides of the table.
He answered questions regarding the status of the agreements, the start of the decommissioning process for MILF fighters, and the importance of the passage of an acceptable law for the autonomy of the Bangsamoro region. That development would help to temper the tendencies of some to link with global radicalism. He told the group that the MILF had already filed the registration of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) with the Commission on Elections, a step that clearly paves the way for their engagement in the political field.
Asked how the MILF would move forward should Congress fail to pass the BBL, Murad emphasized that the MILF will continue to demand the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and its annexes, because this is a signed agreement between Government and the MILF. The BBL would be the best option for peace but its failure is not the end of the peace process, he emphasized.
Murad said “it is now the responsibility of the Aquino government to deliver.” But on the part of the MILF, he said, they are “trying to do [their] best to help,” because they believe that they are “partners of the government in trying to achieve peace.”The gallery was not found!
A quick cultural tour of Bangsamoro
Added to the presentations, the meeting with the MILF Chairperson Ebrahim, and the site visit in Mamasapano, participants also visited the ongoing “Bangsamoro Villages: 100 Days of Culture and History,” a representation of the seven major tribes of the ARMM. The cultural villages showcase the traditional life, culture and arts of the Iranun, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Sama, Tausug, Teduray and Yakan tribes of Mindanao.
The mock cultural villages, located at the regional government’s compound in Cotabato City, feature a typical home, complete with bedrooms. It was first opened to the public November last year as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ARMM. The activity was reopened June 10 this year, running for 100 days, capped with the announcement of the winning village in the closing program.The gallery was not found!