(Privilege Speech delivered by Commissioner Robert M. Alonto during the Plenary Session of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission on February 16, 2016 at the Plenary Hall, BTC Office in Cotabato City)
Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahiim
Assalamo ‘alaykom wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuho.
With the demise of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress, we wish to take this occasion, grim as it were, to thank from the bottom of our hearts the men and women of the BTC – the staff of the Commissioners, the BTC Secretariat and Administrative personnel, the Consultants and international and homeland Resource Persons who assisted the BTC during the public consultations and who provided invaluable inputs, and the Commissioners themselves – for all the hard work: the sleepless nights, the long and exhausting travels here and abroad, the consultations, the frenzied research, meetings, conferences and seminars, the taxing paperwork, and, above all, the dedication and commitment they’ve poured into the effort of drafting the original CAB-compliant BBL.
We also express our appreciation to the friends of the peace process and the international community for not only bearing with us but accompanying us as we stumbled but still surged forward to peace through the road of justice.
Finally, let me also salute our brothers and sisters in the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel and its Secretariat and Technical Committees, with whom we fought the good fight on the negotiating table for the most part of the 17-year negotiation.
We did our job not for anything else – personal, material or otherwise – but for our people and in pursuance of our mandate to draft the BBL that was faithful to the signed consolidated political peace agreement, the CAB, between the Government of the Republic Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
We did not fail our people, the signed political peace agreement, and our mandate.
It is the Philippine government and the Filipino politicians who barefacedly failed us, failed the Bangsamoro people, failed the peace agreement, failed the third party State facilitator to the peace talks, failed the international community that stood witness to these agreements, and failed this country that is in urgent need of securing justice in the Bangsamoro so as to achieve national stability, security and unity in the face of an emerging specter of violent anarchism.
And this epic failure will not only be recorded on the pages of recent history as another execrable infamy, but will breach the barriers of time and haunt the generations to come.
Today we stand not in grief over the ill-fated BBL. But, we raise our voices and fists in anger at the deception that has been foisted on our people, the false hopes that were offered on the plate of empty promises, and the sweet words of assurances that flowed from the forked tongues of charlatans.
Today we mourn not the death of the BBL in Congress, for that was a forgone conclusion when the politicians earlier mangled the BBL, but we demand that those who murdered it be called before the court of our people to answer for this horrendous crime that withheld from us the right to live in peace framed by justice and the right to exercise our freedom through self-determination.
Of course, we do not expect this justice to come so soon. But it will come as always it does, Insha’Allah.
Our eminent colleague, Commissioner Akmad Sacam, a former ambassador, always reminded me, as an elder brother, not to lose hope. For this I will always be thankful to him and treasure the words of wisdom, the words of encouragement, the words of faith, which he has been so generous to share with us. But to put it in perspective, it is we who never lost hope in the justness of our cause. We cannot, however, place all our hopes on a government that could not go beyond promising us and our people false hopes and commitments to agreements it does not intend to deliver.
We, Moros, are a patient people – so patient, in fact, that for 500 years we have resisted colonial assimilation – and so we are prepared to wait until Justice comes like a lightning and those who are responsible for murdering the BBL will have to answer to our people for their crime. They will have to face the countless widows and orphans of war and violence – the war and violence which have been our lot since we became a part of this Republic. And, perchance, if they escape the justice of our oppressed people, we will elevate their crime for judgment to the Divine Court of Allah from which no escape is possible whether in this world or in the Hereafter.
To our brethren in the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel:
There is no reason why we should not hold our heads high. We did our work, gave our level best, and sacrificed personal comfort and security, even health, in pursuit of the immense responsibility that was placed on our shoulders by no less than our people and the MILF, and, if I may add, our brethren in the MNLF and the recalcitrant fighting forces waiting for the outcome of this peace process.
Remember that three of our dedicated and learned brethren in the MILF Peace Panel, Atty. Musib Buat, Datu Tony Kinoc, and Atty Lanang Ali Sr., died while in line of duty serving our Moro Nation as members of the panel. Atty. Datu Michael Mastura, our most feisty scholar-member of the panel, is forced to ‘retire’ because of health and age but without giving up the good fight that we fought for on the negotiating table.
Just as it were thus on a battlefield, we have had our casualties.
The shame is, therefore, not on us.
Indeed, the shame is not on us but on those who shamed themselves and this country before the whole world for betraying the peace agreement, for betraying peace, for betraying justice.
And yet, with not even a sigh of remorse, no sign of contrition on their part, let alone a word of ‘sorry’, for this serialized travesty of justice that they have committed on us, they now insult us by saying that the next regime has the option to abrogate the peace agreement or renegotiate.
Strangely, with nary a ‘sorry’ for having deceived us and our people, we still thank them profusely as if they have not committed a grievous offense that defies all sense of justice and all moral norms under the heat of the sun. By thanking them before the whole world, we, ourselves, have absolved them of any culpability and responsibility over the killing of the BBL in particular, and the non-implementation of the peace agreements in general.
So by absolving government of any responsibility over any fault, who is now the guilty party? The Filipinos and their politicians, given their penchant for blaming the MILF and the Bangsamoro for every wrong in this country, will now point their fingers at us. And, mind you, the new regime will work on this travesty as additional leverage against us.
At this juncture, let me rehearse some of the salient events that paraded before us.
On June 16, 2015, our brethren in the MILF agreed to a ‘symbolic decommissioning’. Fifty-five (55) high-powered and twenty (20) crew-served weapons were handed over to the Decommissioning Body. This took place even before the Philippine Government could in reciprocity fully deliver on its commitment under the First Phase of the decommissioning protocol of the ‘Normalization’ provision of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its relevant Annex. The MILF did this, and using the word of the Chairman of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel, as a “bonus” to prove to the government that the MILF is dead serious and sincere in its commitment to peace.
We had serious reservations about this, but our loyalty to the MILF came first. We are good revolutionaries, loyal mujahideen, who always follow the collective wisdom of the collective leadership of the Movement as it is our bounden duty to do so not in the furtherance of any wrong nor digression from our principles and our peace agreement, but in the advancement of what is just and right, in the advancement of the just cause of the Bangsamoro.
But this regime has proven to be incorrigibly beyond appeasement either within or outside the parameters of the peace agreement. For, all it wants is no less than the total capitulation of the MILF, not the implementation of the agreement, and thus even if a “bonus” was offered, this “bonus” was repaid with a backroom conspiracy from the top to kill the BBL in the halls of Congress.
The Mamasapano Incident on January 25, 2015, even before the so-called symbolic decommissioning “bonus” was heartily offered, is the most graphic illustration of this sinister conspiracy. Here, we saw how the MILF, which government touted as its partner-in-peace because of the peace negotiations and the peace agreement, was classified as an “Enemy Force” in a clandestine police operation President Benigno Simeon Aquino III himself authorized and approved that flagrantly violated all the established protocols of the cessation of hostilities agreement, the main agreement, and the spirit and letter of the peace process itself. Suffice to say, it is the Mamasapano Incident that was delivered on a silver platter to the spoilers of the peace process and the opposition to any form of Bangsamoro self-rule that was used to kill the BBL in both Houses of Congress.
It was not stupidity that was behind Mamasapano: It was a premeditated act by the highest officials of this government.
So was the killing of the BBL in Congress a premeditated act. For who would believe that a Senate and a Lower House of Representatives led by the President’s own party mates from the Liberal Party were beyond the control of the sitting regime?
Who would believe, moreover, that Congressman Celso Lobregat, a member of the Liberal Party, was acting on his own when he viciously opposed the BBL in the Lower House in contravention of the stand of the President and the Liberal Party? Who would believe that he played an important role in the Mamasapano operation that the President himself approved and authorized?
Or, in the same vein for that matter, who would believe that the five provincial governors of ARMM and the Speaker of the Regional Assembly of ARMM, all Liberal party mates of the President, could so boldly come out with an open declaration in 2014 expressing their opposition to a Ministerial/Parliamentary Bangsamoro Government without some sort of a nudge from Malacañang?
Recalling the words of former Congressman and now Commissioner Sani Tamang in the last BTC session we had in Manila, the President did not even certify as ‘urgent bill’ the BBL when it was passed on to Congress. Commissioner Sani’s observation, coming from a veteran member of Congress who is a brother Bangsamoro and a Muslim, should have jolted all of us back into our senses.
Common sense as well as telltale facts should have told us this was all part of the grand act of deception foisted on us.
In no uncertain terms, we ought to have realized that government sincerity is as good as it says it is for as long as we conform not to the agreement, but to their machinations to void and nullify the agreement through and by any means, including, for that matter, recasting it to suit their anti-Moro Agenda.
We are seeing this happen even now, and we are hearing it from their own people’s mouths. The government Chief Negotiator herself said in public, as quoted by Inquirer, January 30, 2016, that “the next administration can either unilaterally abrogate the agreement or renegotiate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”
She later explained, rather belatedly and only at the instance of our critical inquiry through her NGO contacts, that she was quoted by media out of context. But granting that she was quoted out of context, this did not mitigate the irresponsibility and provocativeness of the statement and its insensibility to our people’s feelings. As the government’s Chief Peace Negotiator she should not even make hints, let alone suggestions, hypothetical they may be, that give the wrong signals that undermine the continuity of the peace process, the validity of all signed peace agreements and their mandatory implementation, particularly at a time like this when passions are sky rocketing because of the failure of government to pass the BBL into law.
Again, this was not an inadvertent act of stupidity, but a premeditated policy expressed through and by no less than the government’s Chief Negotiator to add insult to the injury already inflicted on the Bangsamoro by the failure of government to pass the BBL as required by the peace agreement.
In her Opening Statement in the recent Kuala Lumpur talks, she says we all have to “stay the course”. But what “course” is government talking about? The government’s “course” that strayed far away from the agreement and which we have to swallow and follow like mindless zombies?
As clear as day, the official mindset is, and has always been, preconditioned on, and oriented towards, abrogating peace agreements with the Moro liberation movement, whether MILF or MNLF, after every agreement is inked on the negotiating table. This explains why after having killed the BBL, they are now toying with the likelihood of abrogating the peace agreement itself that birthed the BBL by going through another negotiation.
Or, at the least, crafting a new BBL.
This is a replay of the 1976 Tripoli Peace Agreement, the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA), the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001, and the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008.
Sadly, we fell for the mirage of sincerity that they have so cunningly blinded us with. We succumbed to their glowing flatteries and swallowed hook, line, and sinker their ‘Trojan Horse’ offerings of material and political concessions with little or no bearing on the peace agreement without even deeply contemplating on them as mere pittances and corruptive distractions intended to mainstream us and divert us from putting closure to the Bangsamoro Question by way of justice.
At the flipside of this coin, too, we allowed them to repeatedly humiliate and pillory us every time we appeared in the halls of their Congress. We surrendered to them not just our pride but the dignity and honor we inherited from our noble forebears whose nobility was not so much in the blood that ran in their veins as it was in their acceptance of martyrdom in battle in defense of our Moro nation. As such, from a revolutionary liberation organization that hitherto gained the respect and admiration of the people of this country and the world, they looked at us as if we were an NGO and treated us thereafter as an NGO-affiliate of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). But this did not even prevent them after Mamasapano from drawing caricatures of us as ‘bandits’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘murderers’. In the words of President Aquino in reference to our mujahideen and which he uttered before the families of the SAF 44: “Mga halang ang bituka”.
In retrospect, we could have prevented the fate that befell the BBL had we stood pat with firmness and determination in defending it from all alterations, downgrading and mangling in the guise of ‘improvements’ that government proceeded to do after its submission by the BTC to Malacañang and then to Congress. We had all the cards stacked in our favor, so to speak. We had the signed peace agreement, the CAB, to rationalize, justify and hold on firmly to our stand, we had international community presence, we had the overwhelming support of our people, and we had revolutionary force as ‘pressure politics’. In addition to all these, we had moral ascendancy.
So when we acceded to giving them an inch in exchange for paltry ‘private’ concessions, they increased their demand for us to backtrack to a foot, and then to a mile until we were pushed with our backs behind the wall, unable to move farther backward unless we agreed to total capitulation and accepted anything less than the CAB and even less than the ARMM. And when up to the last moment we still believed in the deception of their so-called sincerity that stared at us right in our faces, the deception that we deluded ourselves with by repeating the mantra of “relying on the collective wisdom of Congress” – that was when they gave us the coup de grace – the killing of the BBL in Congress.
This is water under the bridge but one enigma that continues to bug us is the failure to assemble our people for a popular ratification of the BBL, which, though non-binding would still be expressive of our people’s sovereign will, when that was needed the most at that time when the BBL was already in peril.
Thus, in the absence of this effort to mobilize the masses of our people for this purpose, the people of Ranao took the initiative through a broad consensus and affirmative action to immediately condemn the betrayal by government of the peace agreement after leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives officially pronounced the BBL dead. Try as hard as they did, our local politicians who vehemently opposed such a move were not able to prevent our Moro masses in Ranao from pouring out into the streets of Marawi City to take this government to task for its patent treachery.
That said, government, through Congress, killed the BBL but it was not the BBL but the BLBAR that died. It was, in a very real sense, good for us. We could never accept the BLBAR. So what government in effect did was analogous to the folk story wherein the monkey threw the turtle into the river, foolishly thinking the latter would drown. But how can the turtle drown in its natural habitat? The BLBAR was not our ‘turtle’; the original BBL is. The original BBL that came from the womb of the CAB, the original BBL that was the fruit of our collective efforts, the BBL that was written in the blood of our Moro martyrs and the tears of the widows and orphans of war, is still with us and shall remain with us waiting for the day when it shall be the charter of a free, self-determining Bangsamoro Nation.
The issue before us now is not the question of how we should move forward. For it is not we who should be moving forward; it is government, whether this exiting regime or the next, that should move forward by implementing the agreement. This is what the peace process at this stage should be all about and not about more intoxicating flatteries, more self-serving largesse, and more sugar-coated prevarications contained in official statements as well as perniciously manufactured news information hyped by the anti-Bangsamoro media.
Before I end, let me just remind all of us: The BBL may have been ‘slain’ by government, but it will live in our hearts. It will live in the continued defiance of our people – a righteous defiance no amount of ‘management’ will be able to tame until what is due under the agreement is given and we have decolonized our occupied homeland.
We may have lost the political battle today, but we have not lost the political war.
We will hold on to the peace agreement, we will go on engaging the international community, we will persevere in building consensus at the grass root level, but on the other hand we will demand from government, be it this government or the next, to implement the agreement.
No further negotiation is needed.
The struggle goes on, and no one, foreigner or otherwise, can dictate on us as to how it should be done, and it will remain so until Justice emerges as the sole victor.
Again, thank you and may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reward you for the work that you’ve done – for the Bangsamoro people, for our equally oppressed brethren in the indigenous communities, for the struggle, for the homeland.
Wa billahi tawfiq wa’l hidaya.
Wassalaamo ‘alaykom wa Rahamatulllahi wa barakatuho. (Robert Marohombasar Alonto is a member of the MILF peace panel and concurrent member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law).