I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.
—Pope Francis speaking in Malacañang, January 16, on Mindanao peace efforts.
MANILA Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice and constitutional delegate Hilario Davide, tycoon Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Catholic lay leader and former ambassador and peace negotiator Howard Dee, and Muslim Princess Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman should take note of the statements by Pope Francis and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
The Papal and CBCP urgings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law should be useful as the five worthies ponder what to do as members of the Peace Council created by President Benigno Aquino 3rd to “improve” the BBL. The legislation is needed to create the Bangsamoro entity intended to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, under the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
As advised by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto and the CBCP, the Holy Father called for “just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles” — presumably referring to the Constitution — and respecting “the inalienable rights of all, including indigenous peoples and religious minorities,” two groups given less government attention than the MILF.
For their part, Catholic bishops, as stated in their January 22 statement, want the BBL to enshrine both Bangsamoro self-determination as well as Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, they rightly worry that extremists could “exploit or change the democratic framework” of the envisioned Bangsamoro to undermine religious freedom.
So the CBCP wants a BBL provision making such curtailment of other faiths impossible — even though such a stipulation is not in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro or the CAB’s subsumed six annexes, one addendum, and Framework Agreement (FAB). And almost surely it wasn’t even discussed in the peace talks.
This writer agrees with these CBCP positions. And if the council can take further advice, the following are humbly offered.
Peace and patience above all
The council must be clear about its role. It cannot supplant Congress in crafting legislation, so any BBL improvements it has in mind can only be suggested to lawmakers. It must not repeat Malacañang’s mistake of pressuring Congress to pass the Bangsamoro law with nil change and in no time.
Indeed, one thing the council can do for the nation is to urge all stakeholders in the peace process to exercise patience, dialogue, and most of all, realism. War warnings from President Aquino, the MILF and Malaysia should not and will not stampede Congress into passing the BBL. Such mongering is no help and has no place in forging harmony and security.
Patience, dialogue and realism are most needed by Aquino and the MILF. They must accept that most Filipinos are now wary of the Bangsamoro pact and the parties that negotiated it — of them as well as Peace Adviser Teresita Deles and chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.
Also suspect now is Malaysia: it is widely seen as having facilitated the Bangsamoro agreement to supplant the 1996 pact with the Moro National Liberation Front partly to neutralize the MNLF, which is dominated by the Sulu-based Tausugs claiming the Malaysian-ruled territory of Sabah.
Thankfully, the MILF isn’t whipping up war talk. Vice-Chairman for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar said on March 25 that if the Bangsamoro law is watered down, the rebel leadership would consider war along with other options, including appealing to the United Nations and negotiating with the next administration.
MILF Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told a peace advocacy group led by Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma: “The MILF will not disengage from the peace process no matter what will happen to the BBL.” And if it is not passed, Iqbal said, “we would rather like this, because we can engage the next administration for the passage.”
Bottom line: Having gotten this far in its peace talks, the MILF knows it should not go back to square one by resuming attacks. So the Peace Council should, before anything else, call for cooler heads at the helm and silent guns on the ground. And the Front will not ignore Cardinal Tagle and his fellow peace councilors.
Keep everyone talking
Along with opposing renewed fighting, the council should listen to those who have spent far more time and effort crafting the peace agreement and the law needed to implement it: the peace negotiators on both sides and the legislators who, after the death of 44 police commandos, have gained the courage to do their constitutional duty of carefully deliberating and revising the BBL.
These well-meaning personages have conducted long months of deliberations and hearings, which should be made available to the council. Other entities to consult are the MNLF, which has honored the 1996 final peace agreement with the government, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has urged the MNLF and the MILF to reconcile their peace pacts.
Plus Mindanao leaders and experts, especially the ethnic and religious minorities cited by the Pope. Plus military and police brass who know first-hand the peace and security issues in Mindanao.
In sum, the council should build consensus for peace by opening its deliberations to all stakeholders. Excluding certain factions is certainly not the way to win them over.
Lastly, the council must humbly and truthfully recognize that they lack the expertise to judge what should or should not be in the BBL. Indeed, the ultimate judge of the law, if passed, would be the people in referendum. But as honest broker among disparate perspectives and parties, the Peace Council can help keep everyone on speaking to, not shooting at one another. So help them God.