State of the Nation Address Joseph Ejercito Estrada Reyes and commanding generals of the Armed Forces major services; honorable members of the 11th Congress; honorable members of the Cabinet; honorable local executives; other distinguished guests; my coworkers in government; First Lady Dra.
Loi; mga minamahal kong mga kababayan: This is the first opening session of Congress and my first State of the Nation Address to be held in the third millennium and in the 21st century.
It is obviously an auspicious occasion for new beginnings. It should be a new beginning for Mindanao, a new beginning for the economy, a new beginning for integrity in government, and a new beginning for the country. It will also be a new beginning for the presidency. To begin with, we will write a new history for Mindanao. We will rectify centuries of historical wrongs committed by successive colonial powers, and decades of inequity committed by successive Philippine governments.
Mindanao has traditionally been called the Land of Promise. This romantic name has always been a one-way affair. The rest of the country has always expected Mindanao to fulfill its promises to them. It is now time for the rest of the country to fulfill its promises to Mindanao. Let us not forget that Mindanao is an integral and organic part of the Philippines. It has been so for the past four and a half centuries.
It is so today, it will be so forever. This is why the government had to neutralize the attempt of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF] to amputate the southern parts of the country away from the organic whole and to convert them into an independent Muslim state. In fact, the MILF had already occupied and hoisted their flag over large territories in Mindanao—in at least 46 camps—under the nose of the preceding administration, which was either naive enough to tolerate them or too timid to stop them.
In contrast, my government was decisive enough to expel them. When I took office, I swore to preserve and defend the Constitution. It was my solemn duty under that Constitution to repel the armed rebellion and to defend the sovereignty and integrity of this republic.
They said that their goal of secession was nonnegotiable. Well, neither is the sovereignty and integrity of the republic.
No one can challenge that proposition by force of arms and get away with it. It would have been quieter if the conflict could be resolved by an exchange of words rather than by an exchange of fire. But whenever words were tried in the past, in the name of so-called peace but which in reality was appeasement, the rebels simply used the peace talks as an opportunity for arms buildup, for troop recruitment and training, for deployment, for territorial consolidation, and for enlarging their threat to the republic.
There would have been a larger space for tolerance if they had pushed their cause in the open marketplace for ideas. But instead, they built up an army and used their firepower to force their separatist aims on our unwilling people. True to form, the MILF took advantage of the ceasefire to commit at least violations. These include the kidnapping of Father Luciano Benedetti in September ; the occupying and setting on fire of the municipal hall of Talayan, Maguindanao; the takeover of the Kauswagan Municipal Hall; the bombing of the Lady of Mediatrix boat at Ozamiz City; and the takeover of the Narciso Ramos Highway.
The numerous camps they maintained were not Boy Scout camps. They were staging areas and launching pads for expanding the MILF rebellion further. These military camps were not under the command and control of the government of the Republic of the Philippines. They owed their allegiance elsewhere.
Given all these, plus the unabated murders, terrorism, abuses, extortion, bombings, illegal control of buildings and public highways, and other atrocities committed by the rebels in the pursuit of their secessionist aims, the government was faced with two choices. One was to play the sucker, keep talkng and let the problems grow until the republic was in real mortal danger.
The other was to meet force with force. An armed rebellion demanded an armed response. The sitting-duck strategy has never been known to work well … for the duck. Moreover, abstention from military action would have meant political abdication. In effect, we did not choose the military option. It was forced upon us.
But we used it. The retaking of these territories was not just a symbolic victory but a substantive one. We upheld the constitutional principle that the Philippines is one state, one republic, with one government, one military answerable to one civilian Commander in Chief, under one Constitution and one flag, in one undivided territory. That is what it is now.
That is what it will be forever. Ang buong bansa ay nagpupugay sa kagitingan ng mga opisyal at mga kawani ng ating Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas sa pamumuno ng ating kalihim ng Department of National Defense at ng ating Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Kasama ng ating mga field commanders, tinupad nila ng buong katapatan at katapangan ang kanilang tungkulin sa ating pagsakop ng mga kampo ng MILF. Let the whole country salute the Filipino soldiers who valiantly and bravely fought the rebels in defense of the sovereignty, integrity, and honor of the Republic of the Philippines. Sila ay nakadagdag sa hanay ng ating mga bagong bayani. Ngunit ang buong lipunan ay nakikiramay din sa mga mahal sa buhay ng mga nasawi, sa hanay ng dalawang puwersa, sibilyan man o mga sundalo.
Nakikidalamhati tayo doon sa mga nasaktan at napinsala ng kaguluhang ito. Now that we have won the war, it is time to win the peace.
Toward this end, the government has adopted a four-point strategy in approaching the Mindanao question from hereon. The first is to restore and maintain peace in Mindanao—because without peace, there can be no development. The second is to develop Mindanao—because without development, there can be no peace. The third is to continue seeking peace talks with the MILF within the framework of the Constitution—because a peace agreed upon in good faith is preferable to a peace enforced by force of arms.
And the fourth is to continue with the implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front [MNLF]—because that is our commitment to our countrymen and to the international community.
I now invite the MILF into a brotherly embrace of peace. Let us walk away from the battlefield and into the conference room. But we must do so in good faith. You must talk peace with us, not talk while preparing for war. And you must accept our conditions. You must drop secession, drop your criminal activities, and drop your arms. These are not requests but demands. They are not proposals but premises.
We can talk about when, where, and how, but not about whether or not. We can be flexible on timetables and methods, but not about principles. The reasons for each demand should be obvious. I will briefly discuss them in reverse order. You must drop your weapons because outside of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the authorized police forces, no group whatsoever has any right to maintain an armed force or military camps within the sovereign territory of this republic.
Secession by itself is a mere ideology, but if backed by armed force, it becomes a rebellion. A secessionist can only argue, but a rebel can kill. The government has no choice but to disarm the rebel—except for duly licensed personal firearms.
You must drop all your criminal activities because terrorism, bombings, and violence have no place in a civilized society. Criminals have no place in a negotiating table. Their place is in jail. Most of all, you must drop your secessionist goals.
We do not ask that you respect and recognize the sovereignty of the republic. We demand that you do. Secession in the Philippines is an impossible dream.
There simply is no space in our geography, in our demographics, and in all our national mentality for forcibly carving another state out of the present Philippine territory.
For that reason, the foreign models you invoke, like East Timor, will not work for you. Please bear in mind that you are neither the sole occupants nor even the majority in the lands you wish to carve out to convert into your own state.
There are whole Filipino populations in Mindanao—Muslims, Christians, and Lumad—who do not want their territories and their residences disturbed. Not even the majority of the Muslim population shares your separatist views nor the violent means you employ to attain them. The overriding passion of the people of Mindanao is for peace. And the international community as a whole will neither support nor sympathize with secession. In fact, we deeply appreciate the statement of the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Conference [OIC], encouraging Muslim minorities in nonmember states, and I quote: Secession as a dream is also out of tune with history.
If there is one lesson that historical evolution has taught us, it is this: That diversity is a cause for celebration, not segregation; that cultural cross-breeding leads to strength while in-breeding leads to weakness; and that cultural identities are enriched by interaction and impoverished by isolation.
Some of the most glorious creations and achievements of civilization are the products of the historical confluences between Islam and Christianity. What we should strive for is not just peaceful coexistence but interactive harmony and constructive interdependence. We cannot negotiate over secession. The sovereignty and the integrity of the republic are not available for compromise or trade—not even for the sake of peace. Any peace won by bartering any portion of our sovereignty is an immoral peace.