“There is a clear thirst for peace,” Deputy Dominic Hannigan TD, Member of Parliament of Ireland, shared this observation in relation to the public’s attitude to the conflict in Mindanao.
The Irish lawmaker was in the Philippines recently for a three-week volunteering placement with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) under its Parliamentarian Volunteering Scheme. Hannigan is the Committee Chairman for the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to the people of Northern Ireland after 30 years of war. In a press briefing, Hannigan shared his insights gathered during his three-week assignment wherein he worked closely with the Mindanao Peace Partners (MPP), a partner organization of VSO Bahaginan. He traveled to Manila, Davao, Marawi, Lanao del Norte, and Iligan City and was able to meet with various stakeholders, including government officials and members of the MILF peace negotiation panel.
“The experience brought me back in time to the early 1990s. I have seen so much that reminds me of the conflict in Ireland. I recognize many of causes, many of the impacts, but I also see hope, the goodwill and the work that is being done for peace,” he shared.
He referred to PeaceTech as an example, one of the groups he met that are involved in bridging the divide between the communities. The group establishes dialogue and understanding between students in Manila and Mindanao through internet link-ups. Through these link-ups they discover that they have more similarities than differences.
Hannigan acknowledges that an agreement is still far off but the main thing, he said, is that discussions have begun. Blockages are inevitable but they must not be allowed to disrupt the process.
“The issue of what to call the conflicted territory, post agreement, and how to describe it, should not be seen as a blockage. Deciding on whether the territory is a sub-state, independent state, a regional government, or whatever, is not as important as what the officials in the territory can do,” he said.
The VSO Parliamentarian Volunteer remains optimistic and shared points on what the government can do as it works on the agreement. First point he raised focused on the educational policies in Mindanao citing the relative low priority given to the history of Moro and IPs (Indigenous People) within the school curriculum. He recommended updating history books so that they would more accurately reflect the historical context of the Moro and IP in Mindanao.
Secondly, he noted the need for the members of the main opposition parties in the Congress to be involved. Aside from being informed, such move will ensure that local officials and representatives on the ground understand, appreciate, and accept the agreement at a local level.
There is also a need to keep the public informed, he added as his third point.
“Not everything needs to be made public indeed quiet negotiations are an integral part of the process. But selective ideas could be planted with the media to test public opinion and to gauge whether the public would be willing to accept these ideas as part of a comprehensive peace plan,” he explained.
The last point he suggested talked about the need to devise a financial package to be implemented immediately after the signing of an Agreement. This package will be used as basis to spell out what peace will mean to the people of the conflict area, referring to better job opportunities, and better access to housing, education, health and social services. He added that work should begin on devising this package now, so that the economic prizes from peace are evident.
This is the third time that Hannigan volunteered his services to VSO. His first VSO placement was in Mongolia in August 2008 where he worked on health service reform. In August 2010, his VSO placement was in Kathmandu, Nepal wherein he worked on the rights of sexual minorities.
Here is the speech of Dominic Hannigan