Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas has dismissed the idea that peace in Mindanao can only be had through the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), as well as the threats that violence will resume if Congress does not pass it in full, dismissing such “solutions” as “simplistic.”
“All must work for peace in Mindanao—and throughout the country. This precept is not seriously disputed at all. What threatens the prospect of peace most, however, is equating it with the present BBL and threatening the return of violence and bloodshed should the Legislature fail to pass it intact!” Villegas said in a pastoral letter released on the anniversary of the Day of Valor or Araw ng Kagitingan.
In an article posted on the CBCP News website, Villegas, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said complicated history and complicated issues do not lend themselves to simplistic solutions, adding that the more possibilities are restricted, the less likely truly lasting peace becomes.
“Our sights should be set not on a truce, not on some tenuous cessation of hostilities, and for this, principles must be explicated, clearly discussed and rationally agreed on. This is what I refer to as ‘principled peace’. And warning that we shall have war unless BBL is passed does not make for principled peace!” he explains.
Villegas stresses this cannot be attained unless a firm resolve to respect the rights of the “people of Mindanao” —Muslims and non-Muslims alike—are made.
He said Mindanaoans’ just claim to a share in the prosperity of the nation and to its resources rests on social justice, while the right to self-determination entitles them to live by their moral codes, cultural mores, and rich traditions.
“It is the name of their right to determine how they ought to live and how they ought to organize themselves to be true to their most sacred beliefs and their heritage as a people,” he said.
“Self-determination is their greatest entitlement to that degree of autonomy that is consistent with the right of the Republic to its integrity and sovereignty. We are not conceding favors to Mindanao. We are recognizing the rights of the people of Mindanao and according them their due. It is not a matter of condescension and accommodation but of justice!” he adds.
Villegas points out religious freedom is the reason the people of Mindanao should not be forced to bow to a secular regime if they believe they should be practicing their religion even in their civil and political lives.
“Religious freedom does not only mean that there should be room for all to freely believe and freely practice. It also means that secularism cannot be an imposed ideology on the entire Republic!” he said.
Malacañang on Saturday disputed a World Bank-funded study that concluded that the BBL would not succeed in ensuring peace in Mindanao.
In a radio interview, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the study did not even look into Malacañang’s version of the BBL.
“It did not consider the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law submitted by President Benigno Aquino 3rd to Congress on September 10, 2014 so it was not covered in the report,” Valte said, reacting to a statement of Sen. Francis Escudero earlier this week.
Escudero cited a World Bank-funded study of the conflict in Mindanao to point out that even if the BBL is enacted into law, the government will still need to deal with other armed groups in Mindanao.
The BBL is a product of the peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The Palace official said the peace process between the MILF and the government “means peace with the largest and most organized armed group, which has been fighting the government for decades.”
“So to end this armed conflict means that this organized armed body ceases to fight with government and instead becomes a partner in addressing the problems that are facing the country,” Valte said.
“So it enables the effective exercise of the rule of law over areas previously outside the reach of government and in, you know, as some quarters would say, ‘ungovernable’,” she added.
Valte also said the government’s partnership with the MILF was valuable and in line with the nation’s aspirations on security and prosperity.
“It’s not that you’re talking to them to the exclusion of other groups who are also willing to talk peace,” she said.
She also pointed out that not all armed groups in Mindanao wanted to talk peace. Others just want to pursue their own interests.
On one hand, Valte said the report also acknowledged that ending the conflict between the government and MILF would reduce “a significant source of political violence with huge costs in terms of death, injury and displacement, and will impact positively on the prospects of peace and stability across the Bangsamoro.”
She also said the report had “very interesting data on the conflict in areas of Mindanao, in such that it identifies new causes of violence.”
The report will be useful for those involved in the peace process, especially the policymakers, Valte added.
The World Bank study titled “Rebellion, Political Violence and Shadow Crimes in the Bangsamoro: The Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System (BCMS) 2011-2013” was undertaken to provide data that would help in understanding the conflict in Mindanao.
It said information was “critical in dealing with the potential recurrence of conflict after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro” between the government and the MILF.
International Alert UK Philippines and the World Bank put up the BCMS to “monitor and analyze conflict, particularly violent conflict with the Bangsamoro and adjoining areas.”
The BCMS collected conflict data from 2011 to 2013 from the Philippine National Police and five credible print media sources in five provinces.
The World Bank study looked into and analyzed data on conflict in the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi where there were 2,578 violent incidents of violence from 2011 to 2013.
The five provinces make up the bulk of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region.