Mr. President, esteemed colleagues:
We stand now at a crossroads of our nation’s history, and are faced with a momentous choice. We can move forward, or we can fall back. We can descend into war and death, or create peace and prosperous life.
I am sure that we all agree that there is only one clear, resounding choice we can accept: the choice of peace. Peace is the clarion call of our time. Peace is the cry of our people. And so, peace there shall be. Peace in Mindanao, peace throughout our land.
But peace, Mr. President, cannot be achieved and cannot be sustained if it is not an inclusive, all-embracing peace. Peace cannot only be for the benefit of Muslims, or Christians, or only for the MILF, or the MNLF, or the BIFF. Peace cannot distinguish between Filipino and Moro, between Tausug and Maranao, between Lumads and other indigenous peoples. Peace must embrace all faiths and all peoples. Peace must respect and uplift all cultures and beliefs. Peace is not and cannot be exclusive; it is inclusive.
War and conflict is not an option. It never was, never will be, and never should be. After the tragedy of Mamasapano, the desire for vengeance could seduce even the peace-minded. And sadly, in our midst even today there are those who insist that total war against the MILF and other rebellious movements is the real solution.
That is wrong, but understandable. Who could not feel rage and anguish, after seeing the courageous SAF 44 mercilessly slaughtered by elements of the MILF and BIFF, some even after they were wounded, disarmed, and helpless, their equipment and even personal effects stripped from them and passed around as war trophies, or sold on the black market to be used later against their own comrades?
That we have not responded with violent revenge is a blessing we owe to the widows and families of our fallen SAF 44, who have displayed courage and a burning desire for peace every bit the equal of their slain loved ones. In the midst of personal grief and loss we can scarcely imagine, they have shown us the grace of choosing the righteous path. They asked only that justice be served. They choose this path despite their families having been torn apart. They choose this path despite their brave loved ones having been abandoned by their leaders, first in a hopeless battle in which they were outnumbered and outgunned, and many times after, when their government failed – nay, rejected – every opportunity to honor the fallen SAF 44 with the decency, respect, and honor befitting those who have given their lives for our country.
They choose the path of peace. And so shall we.
Our heroes died for peace, and we honor them because a country without heroes is a country without a soul.
This is why the basic law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region we have created with great effort and the help of many people is so important. Our heroes are best honored with deeds, not words, and there can be no greater honor than to finish the task for which they gave their lives, because in honoring our heroes, we honor the Philippines, and all its diverse people.
We should not, and we cannot fail them, Mr. President.
I accepted the challenge and made a commitment to correct the many flaws of the original Bangsamoro Basic Law because I believe in peace. I recognize, as our people do, that this law is necessary to achieve that peace. But it can only meet that sacred goal if it is a law that is constitutional, a law that is all-embracing, inclusive of all who have been tragically affected by the conflict as well as every Filipino, a law that honors our heroes and what they fought and died for.
And so we proceeded carefully, with respect for the future we are all trying to create for this country. We proceeded by being inclusive, and inviting the consultation of every affected stakeholder. We proceeded according to the laws of our land, and the desire of every Filipino for peace.
We proceeded in this careful, thoughtful way because unfortunately, Mr. President, our leadership did not. From the very beginning, the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the “comprehensive” agreement from which it was derived were not inclusive.
From secret meetings in hotel rooms, held in faraway places at the sole discretion of the President of the Republic and disregarded the constitutional authority of this very body in deliberating treaties; to the hasty accession to every demand of the MILF by our negotiating team; to the exclusion of all other stakeholders, the conduct of talks and creation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in its original version only served to raise fears and suspicions. Many of our people have accused these leaders of ‘selling out’, and putting the peaceful integrity of our Republic at grave risk. Some have even gone so far as to characterize the conduct of these leaders as treasonous.
(To Be Continued)