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Voices of Faith on the BBL | CMFR

Voices of Faith on the BBL

By Luis Adrian A. Hidalgo

(From left to right: Dr. Rommel Linatoc, NCCP Commission on Unity and Ecumenical Relations program secretary; MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal; Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares; and Amirah Lidasan of Suara Bangsamoro)

(From left to right: Dr. Rommel Linatoc, NCCP Commission on Unity and Ecumenical Relations program secretary; MILF Chief Peace Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal; Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares; and Amirah Lidasan of Suara Bangsamoro)

FAITH-BASED communities have always played significant roles in addressing national crises, their leaders raising the call for change or speaking on possible actions that will help the country through difficult passages. The interfaith dialogue between Muslim and Christian groups has created forums to ease the exchange they needed to be able to build up mutual understanding and peace.

And yet, the media had not featured the voices for peace from these groups since the tragedy in Mamasapano stalled Congressional action on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). This would have capped 17 years of negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Peace at Last? A Public Forum on the Bangsamoro Basic Law” was organized by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) and Pilgrims for Peace, and attended by members of religious groups, peace advocates and progressive organizations. It included the usual voices already heard in the media, giving their usual slant or angle thrown by opposing parties at each other; rather than discussions on how the religious sector can help push forward the pursuit of peace.

Mindanao conflict not rooted in religion

In the forum, Dr. Rommel Linatoc, program secretary of the NCCP’s Commission on Unity and Ecumenical Relations (CUER), highlighted the importance of the participation of the country’s religious denomination in forwarding the peace process.

Linatoc emphasized that the conflict in Mindanao is not of religious origin.

Hindi naniniwala ang NCCP na ang tunggalian sa Mindanao ay nagsimula sa pagitan ng Muslim at Kristiyano (The NCCP does not believe that the conflict in Mindanao is rooted between Muslims and Christians),” he said.

Echoing Linatoc’s statement, MILF Chief Negotiatior Mohagher Iqbal also made clear in his speech that the Mindanao conflict has nothing to do with religion. “This conflict is not about religion.” Iqbal said. “We are blood brothers and sisters regardless of faith, ethnicity, race, color and creed.”

Linatoc stressed, too, that the talk for peace is a topic not separate to human rights and calls for genuine change in the country—interests that, he said, should also be the concern of the religious sector.

He reminded participants to remember that the conflict suffered by the people of Mindanao is a reflection of a greater problem that affects not only the region, but also the whole country.

Linatoc also pointed out that interfaith dialogues, such as the forum, are not intended to “romanticize peace based on justice,” but rather, the  purpose is to promote greater solidarity and participation between Muslims and Christians for the pursuit of a just and lasting peace.

“We are really calling on the machineries, we are really calling on the institutions to work together para pagtulung-tulungan natin ang kapayapaang nakasalalay sa tunay na pangangailangan ng sambayanang Pilipino (to help achieve peace that is rooted to the true needs of the Filipino nation),” Linatoc said.

“We want a just and lasting peace”

In a similar development, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in July called for a BBL “that is based on and guided by social moral principles.”

Adopting the statement issued by Mindanao Catholic Bishops on the peace process and the BBL, the CBCP does not intend to “endorse or not endorse” any draft BBL from the House of Representatives or the Senate. It emphasized, however, that the CBCP wants a BBL that is rooted in and promotes social justice.

“We want a BBL that effectively addresses the injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro as well as the injustices suffered by indigenous peoples and various religious minorities within the proposed Bangsamoro area,” the statement said.

Alluding to the Mamasapano incident, the Bishops also called on the public to set aside negative emotions and continue with the peace process “by way of dialogue, based on mutual trust, openness, and respect.” The social climate of mutual mistrust, biases and prejudice, the Bishops said, put the peace process and the BBL in limbo.

The Bishops also reiterated that the incident should not be equated to the BBL.

In the end, the Bishops reminded the public that mistrust only breeds a continuing culture of violence and unrest in Mindanao. Trust, they said, is a moral prerequisite for justice, harmony and peace.

“The moral imperative to lasting peace is this: Christians, Muslims, Lumads and members of other faiths have to begin trusting in one another,” the statement said.

No to watered-down BBL

MILF Chief Peace Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal clarified once again that they will not accept anything less than or equal to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“[It] is glaringly obvious that a lot of critical items, provisions and legitimate intent in the source document have been dissipated in the new house bill,” Iqbal said in the forum, referring to HB 5811, the House-approved BBL. “For what reason will we accept an entity lower than or similar to the ARMM, which was offered to the MILF three times in the past?”

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which is the embodiment of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the Government of the Philippines and the MILF signed in March 27 last year, seeks to establish a new Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the existing ARMM. It also seeks to address the Bangsamoro Question and the conflict in Mindanao, which Iqbal said is political in origin and which requires a political solution.

The BBL, however, suffered due to the Mamasapano incident which took the lives of at least 67 people, causing delays in the hearings. The encounter also bred mistrust and prejudice against Muslims. (See “Coverage of the BBL (7-14 April 2015): Bias and Prejudice against Bangsamoro,” Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, May 11, 2015)

The Congress’ HB 5811 or the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) was virtually rejected by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chaired by Iqbal, citing “substantial modifications and/or replacement of the details of the BBL,” while Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. had just submitted his own version of BBL and is yet to be discussed in the Senate.

Iqbal refrained from directly commenting on the amendments made in the substitute BBL submitted by Marcos in the forum, but instead recognized the senator’s efforts. However, he admitted that a lot can be said about Marcos’ version of the BBL.

Iqbal maintains that they hope that at the end of the day, the law that will be passed is acceptable.

BBL: a narrow path to peace?

While there is optimism for the prospects of the BBL, its critics maintain that it is no different from the current ARMM.

Amirah Lidasan of Suara Bangsamoro, said the diluted BBL (HB 5811) is even worse than the current ARMM, whose autonomy she compared to a “puppet government.” Lidasan further said that it hardly reflects the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination.

Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, for his part, argued again that the BBL, which he called “bigay-bawi law,” does not address the roots of conflict in Mindanao, and that it will not deliver a just and lasting peace—a position of the Makabayan Bloc, a coalition of progressive political organizations, which he has repeatedly emphasized in the past.

Many of the participants of the forum were also critical of the BBL—both the original draft and the House-approved bill—but were supportive of the Moro people’s efforts to address the root causes of the problems in Mindanao.

Earlier in May, the Peace Council, an independent group of respected citizen leaders who submitted their report on the proposed BBL to the House of Representatives and the Senate, acknowledged that the bill will not solve all problems in the country or in the envisioned Bangsamoro region. However, the Peace Council believes it is “a foundational element” and “a necessary first step” for the betterment of the region. (See “Former Chief Justice to Congress: ‘Be peacemakers, peace builders,’” Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, May 19, 2015)