(Foreword to the Report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission by TJRC chair Mo Bleeker. The report was handed over to the Government and MILF peace panels separately on December 9, and to both panels in Kuala Lumpur on February 10 and was finally made public on March 15 in Cotabato City and Manila on March 16).
Before you begin reading, I ask you to pause for a moment and to allow me to share some personal thoughts about the journey that led to the creation of this report.
It has been a painful, sometimes almost unbearable experience. At times, even unreal: people, situations, contexts, and stories seem to blend and resemble one another. The endless stories about killing, violence, spoliation, abduction, rape, exclusion, displacement. Yet, the stories are real – each one unique – and the wounds are fresh even after years and the broken memories continue to haunt men, women, and children, their homes, their communities, their landscapes.
There is a penetrating, chilling contrast between the beauty of the Bangsamoro, indigenous and Philippine people, their extraordinary hospitality, their kindness, their ancient culture, the beauty of the surrounding landscape and the permanent, shocking ugliness of everything that has been touched by war, violence, greed, disrespect, and deep neglect.
There is also a deep ambiguity: So many books, academic studies, media reports, film documentaries have been published both in the Philippines and abroad about the origin of the conflict and its consequences. Yet, the violence continues and it continues to generate new forms of dehumanization. As Commissioners, we constantly asked ourselves: Is there anything new to be said? Anything new that can be done?
So, let me tell you straightaway, dear Reader: There is nothing ‘new’ in this report – nothing that you, as an informed person, would not be in a position to know already. There is, however, something ‘new’ in this report that can perhaps inspire you or even change the way you look at life. You can listen to your fellow Filipinos, Bangsamoro and indigenous people, women and men like you, and you can try to imagine their reality. Indeed, this report is about listening, convening, and acting together.
Listening: Many people affected by the conflict, men, women and children, farmers, fishermen, teachers, community leaders, accepted to talk to the TJRC, because they believed that we would listen to them attentively and that their testimony would be heard. They shared their stories – and also their silence when words failed them. They also shared their hopes, their visions for the future. Indeed, although they were at times driven from their homes and suffered unimaginable hardships, they are still remarkably alive and they stretch out their hands to you.
– Convening: Many people from all walks of life, and from all over Philippines – public officials, academic experts, religious and business leaders, teachers, members of the military and police, men and women– accepted to meet with us, to share their experience and knowledge. Often they expressed shame about what has happened and continues to happen; the estrangement imposed upon Bangsamoro or indigenous people; they witnessed scenes of extreme violence; or saw how people lost their loved ones, their place. Some told us that violence, neglect, and impunity are destroying the country as a whole by undermining its core moral values and its sense of solidarity as a nation. Some spoke about what can and shall be done to make sure that there is a future for the Philippines and the Bangsamoro.
This is their report. It speaks about their pain and about their hope. It says that it is both possible and feasible to say ‘yes’ to peace and to a common destiny. It says that the ones who say ‘yes’ to mutual respect, to compassion, to social justice are the future of the nation, the future of the Bangsamoro and the Philippines. By choosing life over death, peace over war, empathy over indifference, these women and men are the heroes of this story. You can join them.
(Mô Bleeker, Chair of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), is Special Envoy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs)