THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Taking a leap of faith on the BBL

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 22 April) – The MILF Panel Chairman, Mohagher Iqbal, has been asking—as does PNoy as well as the government negotiating panel—that we “fast-track” the acceptance or approval of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). This may not be such a great idea.

A piece of legislation like this calls for broader consideration than just sound-bites, headlines, disjointed commentaries, an occasional public forum, or even congressional hearings.

Let’s be honest: Most Mindanaons, like the rest of the Filipino people, were not in on the peace process except as spectators. It was not even taken up in our barangay assembly or in those of the barangays of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

So what are the chances that a sense of ownership, easy familiarity, or intimacy will develop around the novel idea of Bangsamoro in a large segment of society so soon?

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It is not good that the BBL is viewed by most people as primarily an affair between the Central Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

It is bad enough that many are skeptical about the MILF’s claim to represent all Muslims, let alone the Lumads.

The term “Bangsamoro” has yet to gain resonance or general acceptance. It still needs to be internalized by those it purports to benefit. It remains a vague concept to many.

And there has been no real effort to inform or enlighten people or communities about the issues, leaving the task to the devices of commercial media and to commentators with dubious credibility or credential.

No information sheets have been circulated except in privileged circles like academe. No background materials are available to help people understand the situation of the Moros and Lumads. Not even a situationer. How cavalier can the proponents get!

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Late last year, there was an imbroglio in Zamboanga City in which a public assembly attended by the city’s officials expressed opposition to the agreement and disaffection for the MILF itself in no uncertain terms.

Such occurrence cautions us against undue expectations and even impatience at the pace of the process. What sort of background or input went into the preparations for that event? Even universal human rights are not so self-evident and cannot be apprehended without proper background or information.

Too, one must keep in mind that what brought matters to where they are today involved years of struggle on both sides and the use of deadly weapons, violence, and secessionist posturing.

So the fear factor is also a real thing here. There are restraining and driving forces in people’s minds that aren’t being addressed and it’s normal to be wary of being easily taken in. Plus there is a lingering apprehension about any hidden agenda the MILF might have.

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Is it true, for example, that the MILF has an arms factory in their camp? Is there a continuing weapons acquisition and build-up activity? To build trust, the BBL proponents must answer such questions.

Is the government on to the presence and identity of gunrunners, smugglers, and other saboteurs like drug suppliers and mules that feed on insurgency? These are nagging questions that tug at the insecurity of many people and communities. They’re entitled to honest answers.

Otherwise, how overcome such valid apprehensions? How build confidence in a paper agreement with such a high price tag? How lay the foundation for lasting peace?

The challenge to both the government and the MILF is to show earnest that the peace offered by the BBL is something that flows from the heart and mind rather than the barrel of a gun.

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Let’s concede that no negotiations are ever perfect, no peace agreement perfectly crafted, and no perfect peace ever will reign. But going along with the BBL has got to be more than a leap of faith.

Is it reasonable to expect that there be a modicum of understanding, goodwill, and mutual trust on both sides? So we can set aside our reservations and give peace a chance, there should be a tangible token of good. Has anyone been to their munitions factory?

If there’s one thing we can be sure of, this BBL won’t work if we can’t suppress our grudges, water down our prejudices, and banish our fears. We are called upon to set aside skepticism and unbelief, then to make room for the dream of peace and prosperity that has eluded conflicted members of Mindanao society for so long.

As the song goes: “How are we gonna make everybody’s dream come true?”

[Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. Author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected] ]