PEACETALK: The legislators want peace?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 Sept) — The legislators don’t seem to want to call it the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) anymore. Both in the House (HB 5811) and the Senate (SB 2894), they are now calling it the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR). But by whatever name it is going, there is cause for genuine concern. The bills proposed to replace the version submitted by the President to Congress are unacceptable. They do not honor the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was a formal Philippine Government commitment. They do not provide for genuine autonomy for the Bangsamoro people. They provide less for the Bangsamoro people than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Law. They do not recognize the legitimacy of the Bangsamoro struggle and the proposed law as way of restoring justice to the Bangsamoro People.

They do not hear the leaders of the MILF stating that these versions are unacceptable. Worse, if they hear it, they ignore it.

The legislators all say that they want peace. They reject war. But they display little sympathy for the justness of the Bangsamoro armed struggle for a homeland in redress for their having been discriminated against, deprived of their lands, massacred, warred upon because they remain true to their Muslim faith and traditions. Seeing no connection between this armed struggle and the law, they reject the original preamble of the BBL. They have reduced the autonomous region mandated by the Constitution to little more than a local government unit, removing from it powers that had already been granted in the ARMM.   They want peace, but they undermine the leadership of the leaders who lead their people from war to peace. They want peace, but they squander valuable legislative time by failing to show up for legislative sessions to forge peace. They want peace, but they fear the public deliberations which should lead to peace. They absent themselves from congressional sessions and thwart quorum. With no quorum they are unable to cure the deficiencies of the draft BLBAR, which translates too easily into a cynical “BAR the Bangsamoro Law.”

The legislators say they want peace, but they think that if they undermine the passage of the BBL, or water down its content, the Mindanao violence will not recur. They presume the damage of delay can be remedied under a future administration while they now pander to the fears and votes of prejudiced constituencies. They want peace, but deny peace its due leadership and courage. They want peace, but ignore what is going on on the ground already in areas of Maguindanao and Zamboanga. Here a breed of Muslim is organizing that is different from the MNLF and MILF and all Muslims in the Philippines before them. Their concern is not a Philippine homeland and genuine autonomy, but global Islamic solidarity and a borderless Islamic State. Their allegiance is not to the Philippines, their allegiance is to the leaders of the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and all over the world. Their religion teaches them to reject religious freedom and to kill those who do not accept them, including Muslims who declare their intolerance and brutality to be contrary to Islam. They are brutal and barbaric and have paraded their beheadings and mass murders on mainstream and social media for all the world to behold and fear. From their horror, millions flee over land and sea, as they flee Syria into the Mediterranean on onto Europe, countless drowning on the way.

In their power, Muslims in the Philippines disenchanted by the peace processes that so disrespects them, that over and over again forges formal national agreements with them and breaks them, are beginning to repose their hope.

The MILF and most Muslims in the Philippines do not support the ISIS. Most Muslims in the Philippines believe in religious inclusiveness, and reject extremism. But many of these Muslims are poor, disenfranchised, and excluded from the benefits of mainstream Philippines society. They do not enjoy the benefits of strong education. They do not have much of a future. Today they believe in the integrity and wisdom of battle-scarred Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim. But if tomorrow, after the votes on the BBL or the BLBAR are taken, they judge that he has not had the strength to make his openness to “dialogue” and “negotiations” work for their lives and their futures, they will shift their allegiance to younger, less longsuffering leaders of the Bangsamoro peoples. Only this time, the battle cries may not be for “genuine autonomy” nor even for independence. They will be for a borderless Islamic State.

Far away in Manila the legislators may think this alarmist or an exaggeration of possible evils in order to pressure passage of a politically motivated bill. But I entreat the legislators to read the signs of the times. Harried refugees are pulling down age-old borders, redefining rules of governance in the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Irrepressible flows of humanity forced to flee from homes and countries where ISIS has destroyed their peace and their right to worship the Almighty in the way they choose are re-defining the world order. Let our legislators not think that we are mystically immune from this international malady, protected by our saints, our sacraments and our political saviors. Let them rather recognize that because they squander the goodwill and wisdom of today’s Muslim leaders, and would actually legislate conditions that restore power in Muslim Mindanao to the privileged families who can give them cheap wholesale votes, their folly can not be tolerated with patience and impunity.  Those who are excluded from the benefits of economic development, normal education, health care and decent employment will find power for redress where they must.

Our legislators who from imperial Manila, polluted, overweight, sick, congested, and quite deluded, may learn that if they force our youthful leaders in Mindanao to target them, our national disorder, and our historical inability to keep our word, as enemies of their future, our centers of population are not invulnerable to suicide bombers.

Where an autonomous Bangsamoro government can preserve within their territory the right of every Filipino, including every Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew or Lumad, to worship God or Allah as he or she in conscience sees fit, the law which would establish that autonomy should be passed.

[Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ is president of the Ateneo de Davao University. He is also Vice President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and chair of its Advocacy Committee, and President of the CEAP in Region 11. MindaNews was granted permission by the author to reprint this piece, first published in Fr. Tabora’s blog, http://taborasj.wordpress.com/author/joeltaborasj/ and the Manila Times on September 14, 2015]