Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Peace and Security

Let's Start the Revolution of the Filipino Youth XXI

One of the most important elements of a prosperous and developing country is its peace and order situation. In order for the people to have faith in the systems that the government has established, peace and order should be ever-present. Securing borders is probably much easier because territorial boundaries are more visible than in securing the hearts and minds of Filipinos that they are safe out in the streets or that their businesses are safe from lawless elements. The Philippines is currently facing two major battles on the ground: the Communist insurgency, and the Muslim rebellion. Aside from this, Jemaah Islaymiyah terrorists along with the Abu Sayaff are operating within some jungles in Mindanao which they are using as training grounds for their bombing activities. All in all because of corruption in government and a lack of a more comprehensive security plan, the country suffers from a high crime rate. Though there are many municipalities and cities that have low crime rates or even close to zero crime rates, key urban cities and provinces that account for the bulk of the country's population and economic activities are an almost everyday target of criminal syndicates. Hence, the perception of crime is high. Trade in illegal drugs and the proliferation of gambling syndicates seem unstoppable.

Unless the current administration achieves lasting peace agreements with the Communist insurgents and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), eliminate graft and corruption, improve the quality of education, and create the jobs for many of our nation's poorer citizens, the country cannot move forward faster. Poverty is the main cause of crime in the country and by eliminating poverty, criminal syndicates will have a hard time recruiting members and would-be criminals would instead have decent jobs. Unless current politicians especially in Congress realize this, they will continue to need many bodyguards. And elections will be as dirty as in the past. A solution is at hand but the challenge is having the political will to do it.

The Mindanao Solution

Mindanao is one of the most beautiful and most bountiful Islands in Southeast Asia. And Mindanao also has a very rich history in trade, culture and religion. Long before the Spaniards came to Philippine shores, Mindanao natives were already trading with people from all of Southeast Asia, China, India and the Middle East. In search of new products and spices, Arab merchants traveled to Southeast Asia all the way from the Middle East. They also brought the Islamic faith with them and converted many of the natives. Mindanao cities especially Jolo, Sulu and Kutawato (now Cotabato) were thriving settlements ruled by trival chiefs called datus.

Fast forward 2007 and Mindanao is struggling to regain its former significance. Davao and Cagayan de Oro cities are the new thriving settlements. And peace is still elusive. The reasons for Mindanao's stunted development are not cultural, they are political. A political solution is what is needed to achieve peace in our land. Muslims are an integral part of Philippine society and I believe they should be given the chance to develop their lands. The issue at hand is not necessarily ancestral domain but the neglect of Muslims in Mindanao in terms of opportunities for development, infrastructure and other basic social services.

The Mindanao solution involves the total acceptance of all parties involved that Mindanao including Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are an integral and inseparable region of the Philippines. If the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) insists on a separate state because of religious differences, what stops Christian minorities within Muslim areas to also seek their own autonomous states. It does not solve anything. But it perpetuates a culture of violence. A final peace agreement necessitates the swallowing of a bitter pill, of becoming humble, that all Filipinos regardless of religion are equal. Religion cannot be used as a political card.

I would think God or Allah will be disgusted over the thought that a belief in a God can result to war. A final peace agreement involves the real transformation of Mindanao as the country's food basket. Mindanao is rich in both natural and cultural resources, if it is given the chance to grow then it will surpass even Luzon in its economic performance.

I believe that more Muslim Filipinos should be given the chance to enroll in the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and other universities so as to build a generation of dedicated and passionate Muslims in the field of politics, business, science & technology, media, entertainment and other fields.

The Visayas Example

In terms of peace and security, it is Visayas that sets apart. A region composed of so many islands, Visayas is a tourist's paradise. Peaceful and serene, it always feel like you're really on a far away island in the middle of the sea. Peace has come to this region as far as I can remember. Cebu, its capital province and city, showcases the best in the country, it is a cultural wonder with a distinctly Visayan flavor.

Often called the Queen City in the South, Cebu epitomizes a dream Philippines - prosperous, peaceful and clean. Visayas despite many new developments still contains many forest covers and unpolluted shores.

This is a testament to the Visayan bias for peace. Unlike in other regions in the Philippines, the Visayans are known to be "malambing," or gentle, warm-hearted people and doesn't share the short temper of most Filipinos. I believe by copying the Visayas example we can bring peace to the country.

Geography plays a role

One of the necessary elements in achieving unity within the Philippines is to consider that we are a nation of island groups. In order for any political solution to be truly workable, the government will have to consider that we are a lot harder to unite due to distance and cultural & language differences.

The United States of America's struggle for independence from Great Britain and then the push for unity of all states was in a way easier because the USA is one continuous landmass. Almost all the states in the federation are within the same continental landmass of the Americas. In the Philippines, the country has over 7,100 islands, not to mention there are different tribes per island group.

Our situation is very unique in that sense. And any discussion on achieving greater unity will have to take this into consideration.

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