DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Cause-oriented groups expressed disappointment over President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) because he hardly spoke about pressing concerns in Mindanao during his speech on Monday, July 25.
Marcos was silent about what he planned to do with the relatively new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the unfinished rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City, the marginalized indigenous communities, and the decades-old communist insurgency that has adversely impacted many Mindanao areas.
Davao City-based Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana, who challenged the reelection bid of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s son Paolo in the city’s 1st District congressional race in May, said she expected that Mindanao would figure strategically in Marcos’ SONA.
Maglana pointed out that one of the factors why Marcos won overwhelmingly in the presidential polls was because his running mate was Vice President Sara Duterte, daughter of the first Philippine president from Mindanao.
“Instead, Mindanao was only mentioned in relation to a railway project,” she noted.
Silent on the Bangsamoro
Maglana said the Bangsamoro peace process and the critical stage of the extension of the interim Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) and the Marawi crisis were left out in the SONA.
The Marawi-based Moro Consensus Group (MCG) said it hoped that Marcos’ silence on Marawi’s rehabilitation did not mean that it would take a backseat during the next six years.
“We hope it didn’t mean abandonment or that it has ceased to be a pressing matter in this administration,” said MCG chairman Drieza Lininding.
The group said much has yet to be done for the thousands of families displaced as a result of the Marawi Siege in 2017.
Lininding called on the Marcos administration to ensure the return of the internally displaced, and give Maranaos, who are still suffering, dignity and justice by fully implementing the Marawi Siege Victims Act of 2022.
“We hope that PBBM (Marcos) will make Marawi his priority, and showcase his kind of resolve and leadership to the world. We hope that he will succeed where his predecessors failed,” he said.
Lininding added, “We also hope he will sustain the gains of the Bangsamoro peace process and the regional stability that we are enjoying right now.”
Silent on IPs
Marcos was silent too about the plight of indigenous peoples in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country.
While the nation was listening to his first SONA on Monday, authorities arrested two lumad youth leaders after they attended an anti-SONA demonstration at Davao City’s Freedom Park.
The youth group Kabataan Partylist in Southern Mindanao identified the arrested as 22-year-old Ismael Pangadas, and his 19-year-old brother Mawing.
Kabataan said the siblings were on their way home and waiting for a public jeepney ride when authorities pounced on and arrested them for child trafficking, a case similar to what has been filed against other activists.
The youth group called the case against the brothers “trumped-up,” and added that “this is clearly fascism in action that blatantly disregarded due process and tramples upon human rights.”
The Pangadas brothers were detained at the San Pedro Police Station in Davao as of this posting.
Maglana said it was a disappointment that Marcos said nothing about the IPs.
She noted that Vice President Duterte wore an attire associated with Mindanao’s indigenous peoples, and Marcos did not take the cue.
Still no peace talks with NDF
Several political and sectoral leaders in Mindanao have also been prodding the Marcos administration to resume the peace process with the National Democratic Front (NDF) which was abandoned by his predecessor, saying the continued absence of a formal settlement has continued to affect the South.
One of the groups is the bishops-led Citizens’ Alliance for Just Peace (CAJP), the largest network of peace groups in the country, that called on Marcos and communist rebel leaders to return to the negotiating table.
“President Marcos Jr. has banked on the call for unity, but unity cannot be achieved when there is unpeace. Thus, we call on the government and the NDFP to resume the peace negotiations that address the roots of armed conflict. The parties should stay in the course and advance the negotiations and implement the signed agreements,” read a pre-SONA statement signed by Cagayan de Oro Catholic Archbishop-emeritus Antonio Ledesma, The Most Reverend Rhee Timbang, and Karen Tañada.
The CAJP also called for a stop to “vicious red-taggings, filing of trumped-up charges against dissenters and extra-judicial killings, the release of political prisoners,” and the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Julie de Lima, the interim chairperson of the NDFP peace panel, said members of the New People’s Army (NPA) will not lay down their arms without a resumption of the peace negotiations.
Back to the SONA tradition
Some appreciated Marcos SONA like Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) professor and political analyst Rommel Beleno III.
Marcos, he said, restored the SONA tradition.
“We saw a disciplined delivery. He (Marcos) was on the script, no segues, and he stopped on every applause,” Beleno told the Davao City Disaster Radio on Tuesday, July 26.
Marcos’ speech was in stark contrast to the SONA speeches of his predecessor whose rhetoric was characterized by cussings and ad-libs.
Beleno added, “He was fast-paced. We could notice a bit of gasp, but overall, his SONA was impressive as he prepared for it.”
But although Marcos’ speech was impressive, Beleno said the new president missed out on his peace and order plans especially in Mindanao, the terrorism problem, and corruption in government, an issue long hounding his family.
Beleno said Marcos should pursue his plans to rightsize the bureaucracy and rid the government of excess fats.
He also said, “It was good to hear him say, ‘We will not surrender an inch of the West Philippine Sea.’ How can we defend it knowing that China right now is being aggressive while our neighboring Southeast Asian countries don’t have a unified stance against China?” – Rappler.com