We hope that Congress and our people can overcome their prejudices. We cannot pursue peace on the basis of mutual fear and distrust. All of us must undertake an active search for justice, truth, respect, love and peace.
— Report of the Peace Council on the Bangsamoro Basic Law
MAYBE this writer is mistaken, but in the decades he has known Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle since college years at the Ateneo de Manila University, Chito, as his Class 1977 batchmates call him, was never one to make sweeping accusations.
Always humble and deferential, even to people under his authority, Cardinal Tagle would be very careful about calling anyone “prejudiced”, let alone the elected representatives of the nation and the Filipino people themselves.
To this columnist’s knowledge, the same humility, respect for others, and circumspection in speech may be ascribed to former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., former Ambassador and peace negotiator Howard Dee, and Ayala Group CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.
So one is taken aback when the Report of the Peace Council on the Bangsamoro Basic Law signed by these august men and Mindanao peace advocate Princess Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, refers to “prejudices” in Congress and the people, on page 5.
Your Eminence, Your Honor, and distinguished Sirs and Madam, in what actions, omissions and statements has Congress shown an unfair attitude toward certain parties? Which senators and representatives displayed this bias? And what actuations of the nation at large have also manifested this prejudice you collectively deplore?
Please send your reply to The Manila Times, so it can be printed in this column. Then our legislature and our people can learn and correct their faults.
However, if this phrase about prejudice did not emanate from your collective pen, then please repudiate it, for the sake of countless Filipinos who look up to your moral rectitude, authoritative knowledge, and sense of fairness and truth. One misattributed line does not mean you do not give overall support to the entire 59-page report and its 146 pages of annexes.
As you ponder the above line and decide whether to disavow or clarify it, you may also wish to review other assertions in the paper. While one cannot attribute all or even most of the report to the Peace Council or its members, in fact, the material is portrayed as its collective perspective on the BBL. Hence, it would be good to know if Tagle, Davide, Dee, Zobel de Ayala, and Sumndad-Usman do indeed subscribe to the points below.
“If there is a possibility for both an interpretation that is constitutional and an interpretation making a law unconstitutional, the more liberal interpretation that renders the law constitutional in favor of peace should be adopted.” (page 7)
Cardinal Tagle and Mr. Zobel de Ayala, in particular, may wish to comment on the above approach in interpreting the BBL. Applying it to their spheres of authority, if different interpretations of doctrinal statements and business contracts might or might not comply with Christian dogma and corporate laws, respectively, would the churchman and the CEO simply assume that the compliant meanings would always be used and followed?
Or would they insist on revising the unclear provisions to remove the possibility of interpretations contrary to faith and law? In fact, the Council did recommend clarifications in a good number of BBL provisions.
For instance, the report rightly recommended that the “asymmetric relationship” between the national and Bangsamoro governments be explicitly defined, rather than simply assuming that among all the ways the phrase could be understood, only the constitutional meaning would prevail.
Ditto with BBL provisions granting “exclusive powers” to the Bangsamoro regime, in apparent diminution of the national government’s prerogatives under the Constitution. The report wanted “exclusive” changed to “devolved,” so it’s clear the that powers are merely being delegated, not surrendered to the autonomous region.
So one asks the Council: Do you subscribe to the above-quoted statement that BBL provisions with unconstitutional interpretations should be left alone, or would you press for clarifying revisions to eliminate those illegal meanings?
Also: Will the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its allies in the Muslim world always adopt constitutional interpretations in construing BBL provisions? If so, then surely the MILF and its friends wouldn’t mind if Congress revised those equivocal stipulations to make their legally sound meanings absolutely clear.
In sum, esteemed Peace Councillors, isn’t it best if Congress revises BBL provisions that could give rise to illegal interpretations, especially those that may spur separatism?
“In the area of peace and armed conflict, the primary consideration of any government use of force is the protection of civilians. The burden of proof when there are ANY civilian casualties is on the government.” (page 44)
This line isn’t a comment on the BBL, but on the Mindanao conflict itself. The second sentence argues that since government forces should protect civilians, if any of these people are killed or injured, the state needs to prove that it was not to blame.
Does the Council, especially former Chief Justice Davide and former peace negotiator Dee, buy that? That the government is presumed guilty for civilian casualties unless proven innocent, reversing the legal principle by which Davide has adjudicated cases throughout his judicial career?
And having represented the state, including its military, in many peace talks, does Dee agree that in “ANY civilian casualties” it is the government that has the burden of proof in showing it was not at fault?
There are many other statements in the Peace Council report which the Councillors may wish to affirm, clarify or reject. A boldface paragraph on page 46 urged “reviewing the extent to which a commando force in the PNP is consistent with the Constitutional establishment of a ‘civilian police’ ” — questioning the Special Action Force which lost 44 troopers in Mamasapano.
But let’s stop at three statements for the Peace Council to ponder. That’s plenty enough for its members to explain.