DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 April) — Catholic bishops and educators vowed to strengthen the role of the Catholic Church “in the promotion of lasting peace in Mindanao” as they welcomed the March 27 signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) both as a source of optimism and as a “greater challenge to all in our nation to be involved in this quest for peace, which is our shared responsibility.”
Citing Pope Francis’ call for “reconciled diversity,” some 70 representatives of Catholic institutions in Mindanao, among them eight bishops, officials of Catholic schools, seminaries and peace centers, gathered at the Ateneo de Davao University’s Finster Auditorium on April 9 and 10 for “Conversations on Peacebuilding in Mindanao.”
Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma cited four reasons behind the “Conversations:” to “understand the historical context of the Mindanao conflict, a culmination of many years of decades and struggle in Mindanao;” to have an overview of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro; to “discuss various perspectives and ongoing ways to pursue what we call a reconciled diversity;” and to consider available options together in peacebuilding and networking.
The historical context was provided by historian Rudy Rodil, who has done extensive research on Mindanao’s history and the minoritization and marginalization of the original occupants of Mindanao – the Moro and Lumad (indigenous peoples).
Rodil was a member of the Regional Consultative Commission (RCC) that drafted what would be the Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao in the late 1980s, was a member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) from 1992 to 1996 and was a member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the MILF until then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo disbanded the panel following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in August 2008.
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer gave updates on the peace process along with MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal’s representatives – B’laan Datu Antonio Kinoc and Atty. Haron Meling.
At the end of the two-day forum, the participants issued a statement titled “Working towards a Reconciled Diversity,” calling on the public to “ inform themselves of the issues involved in this struggle” and urged the government and MILF peace panels to “strengthen their dialogues by ensuring profound inclusivity, hearing all the voices who have a stake in peace – indigenous peoples, religious leaders, NGOs, academe, the poor, even the dissidents – to ensure that the road we are taking is not motivated merely by political ambitions, but by genuine and sustainable peace for all peoples.”
“Conversations” was organized by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue (CBCP-ECID) and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP).
The statement took note of Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium which states that “the message of peace is not about a negotiated settlement but rather the conviction that unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity. It overcomes every conflict by creating a new and promising synthesis.”
Ignorance to insight
“We, bishops and educators, have stressed dialogue, tolerance, and sensitivity in diverging issues deeply-rooted in historical wrongs. We have called on all peoples to build bridges of friendship and compassion. With Pope Francis, we say: ‘Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a reconciled diversity,’” the statement read.
The statement ended with a call to “move from diversity to reconciliation, from ignorance to insight, from conflict to peace!”
The statement listed 18 ways to pursue “reconciled diversity.”
- strengthen the role of the Catholic Church in the promotion of lasting
peace in Mindanao through its various institutions such as schools and universities, seminaries, peace centers, radio stations, etc;
- develop creative historical narratives in contextualizing the history of the Bangsamoro and of Mindanao;
- explore a more comprehensive, exploratory, holistic and inclusive understanding of the history of Mindanao using the paradigm of nonlinearity, embracing the simple, the complex and the reflexive nuances of historical narratives;
- expand the consciousness beyond the Bangsamoro into a consciousness that embraces a more universal conception of the “Malay” identity;
- Encourage the creation of various discourses on the culture of peacebuilding and peacemaking in various levels, in various sectors of society, that underscores a shared identity and a common future among the peoples of Mindanao;
- Through the Bangsamoro Agreement, explore and examine how issues pertaining to the culture of rido, possession and proliferation of firearms, lawlessness, violations of basic human rights, indiscriminate killings of peace advocates and innocent civilians, warlordism, and widespread poverty could be appropriately addressed;
- underscore the importance of building trust in cultivating relationships with communities in pushing for greater understanding of the new Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro;
- strengthen intrafaith processing accompanying interfaith dialogue in order to narrow the gap not only between prejudiced Christians but also similarly prejudiced Muslims;
- make the Bangsamoro Agreement truly an instrument of peace, and not just another hegemonic structure from a similar hegemonic structure;
- work for peace not in isolation but in the context of the community;
- create programs among religious groups under the new agreement;
- disseminate correct and factual information and combat misinformation;
- propagate a spirit of dialogue in churches and in schools, to focus on the morality of people, remind everyone to help in the creation of this new government and to increase interfaith dialogues, especially those led by civil society in the universities and peace centers;
- start peacebuilding with the children, at the kindergarten level;
- bridge initiatives in an attempt to help shape the Basic Law, with the relevant institutions facilitating access to the proper authorities.
- learn to appreciate Moro diversity, for parishes and universities to provide space for interfaith dialogues;
- continue peace education in churches and schools;
- use the six-petal approach in developing peace education programs; teach about values on social justice
The statement acknowledged that the church, as an important institution “permeating various layers of society” must use its positive influence in creating more avenues for peacebuilding initiatives, especially at the grassroots level.”
On the need to develop creative narratives in contextualizing the history of the Bangsamoro and of Mindanao, the statement noted the need to “come up with creative metaphors/symbolisms that represent the common desire of Mindanawons in the effort of peacebuilding.”
What is the realistic alternative?
Jolo Bishop Angelito Lampon, ECID chair, shared that in Jolo, they had an Interfaith Council of Leaders meeting on April 7 and 8 because of the need to have “one voice” following the series of kidnappings, hold-ups, extortion cases and gang rape in Sulu, especially in Jolo.
On the CAB and Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Lampon said there is a need to “comprehend all these things” especially in an area like Sulu which is more identified with the Moro National Liberation Front rather than the MILF but is part of the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
He said there is cynicism among some people in Sulu about the future Bangsamoro given the failure of Misuari who was governor of the ARMM from September 1996 to November 2001, when he was arrested off Sabah for alleged illegal entry after allegedly mounting a rebellion in Jolo and Zamboanga.
He acknowledged the “complexity of these matters” given that the MNLF and MILF still have their firearms and private armies still abound.
But Lampon asked, “What is the realistic alternative to this? Continuous war for another 50 years?”
In the resettlement area of Wao, Lanao del Sur, concerns were raised over what were being peddled off as an unofficial copy of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and how residents were terrified over a provision there that the Bangsamoro government would facilitate the return of the internally displaced persons before and the recovery of their property.
GPH peace panel chair Ferrer said reports have reached them about several alleged drafts of the BBL that have been going around but the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which is drafting the Basic Law was still crafting the document.
Kinoc, who was representing MILF peace panel and BTC chair Iqbal added, “don’t believe any document unless signed by the proper people. Where can you find a basic law draft circulating in rural communities? That is absurd, huwag kayo maniwala (don’t believe).”
Kinoc added that in Davao City, some enterprising people have even circulated a document asking payment for membership in the Bangsamoro.
Timuay Alim Bandara reiterated their appeal for the BTC to address the issue of ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples. The MILF had earlier repeatedly said “there is only one ancestral domain.”
In an open letter to President Aquino dated April 7, the “Timuays, Datus Fintailans, Baes of Teduray, Lambangian, Dulangan Manobo, Erumanen ne Manuvu, Obo Manobo,” reminded the President that while the GPH-MILF’s Framework and Comprehensive agreements “may have answered consensus points for the Moro peoples… it raised a lot of crucial questions for us indigenous peoples.”
They asked, among others, why the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) “the very law that protects our rights as Indigenous Peoples, (is) not included in the FAB, Annexes and the CAB?”
Rido, private armies, warlordism
A nun stood up during the open forum asking how the peace agreement would address the issue of rido (clan wars) and warlordism.
She also wanted to know “how far people on the ground, the ordinary citizens especially in Mindanao, have been truly informed about this CAB, about this Bangsamoro.”
She said she hopes “simple people will be educated on what is this all about.”
Meling, who also represented the MILF’s Iqbal, said the issue of rido is an
issue of “failure of the justice system” which the future Bangsamoro government hopes to address. He, however, cautioned, that this will not happen overnight but will be a process that will take some time.
He also said the proliferation of firearms in the Bangsmaoro area is a manifestation of insecurity.
“Because of that failure of government, of the state to institute justice for all victims, vendetta is resorted to,” he said.
What can we do in 6 months, one year?
Given all these challenges, Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, President of the Ateneo de Davao University and chair of the CEAP’s National Advocacy Commission, asked, “for the next six months to one year, what would you like the Catholic Church in Mindanao to do?”
Rodil said he sees “an urgent need to propagate some more the spirit of dialogue,” not just in the church and parishes but also in schools.
“What are they teaching the children? Children should be created into a new generation” imbued with the spirit of dialogue, he said.
Datu Kinoc reiterated the need to “focus on morality of the people.”
He had earlier told the audience that he believes the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) failed “because of corruption.”
“If we put up the Bangsamoro and it will just be as corrupt as what we are replacing, then even now, we should already stop. Walang mangyayari dyan (Nothing will happen there),” Kinoc stressed.
“Sorry to say but church people are also partly to be blamed especially in predominantly Muslim communities,” he said.
“We are putting up a new government, supposedly a new government. Tulungan natin ito” (let us help), he added.
Meling’s response to Tabora’s question came in three parts: “be like Cardinal Quevedo. He speaks of the truth that the Bagsamoro problem is due to injustice.”
Meling was referring to Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato who wrote a paper 11 years ago tracing the root of the conflict to injustice, among others to Moro political sovereignty, identity and integral development.
Second, Meling said, there should be more interfaith dialogue, and the Bishops-Ulama dialogue can help much; and third, universities and peace centers should continue what they are doing.
Ferrer noted that within the auditorium were people already engaged in different ways “in this project in attaining peace.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/ MindaNews)