DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 July) – After a long wait, the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB) is expected to be finally set up under the administration of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the President whose campaign promises included correcting historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told reporters during his visit at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Camp Darapanan on July 21 that the GPH-MILF Implementing Team composed of five members from the government and five from the MILF “will discuss this,” along with other issues, when they meet in Kuala Lumpur in early August.
“Kasi yang transitional justice is actually a reference to the Bangsamoro.… the injustice committed and you have to address that,” he said, adding, “that’s the reason why we’re across the table.”
Transitional justice, according to the United Nations, “emerged as part of a recognition that dealing with systematic or massive abuses requires a distinctive approach that is both backward- and forward-looking: transitional justice measures aim not only to dignify victims, but also to help prevent similar victimhood in the future.”
Its long-term goals are to “promote peace, democracy, and reconciliation, with the idea that these conditions help to prevent the systematic or massive violation of human rights.”
During his sorties as candidate and even now as the country’s 16th President and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation, Duterte, whose grandmother wsa a Maranao, would invite his audience to travel back to 1521 with his lecture on Philippine history from the viewpoint of Mindanao, to help them understand what happened to the Bangsamoro.
More than just passing the basic law
But passing the basic law that would pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is only one of many ways Duterte can address the injustices.
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF signed on March 27, 2014 provides not only for the passage of the basic law but also for other steps in correcting the historical injustices, among them the creation of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) that recommended the creation of the seven-member NTJRCB.
The TJRC is an independent body set up by the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF in 2014 “to undertake a study and to make recommendations with a view to promoting healing and reconciliation among the different communities affected by the conflict in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.”
“It all began with violence”
The TJRC was mandated to propose appropriate mechanisms to address legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices, address human rights violations, including marginalization through land dispossession, and make recommendations with a view to promote healing and reconciliation of the different communities that have been affected by the conflict.
The TJRC submitted its report separately to the peace panels on December 9 last year and to both panels on February 10 this year and finally made it public in launches in Cotabato City on March 15 and Manila on March 16 this year.
The report concluded that the Bangsamoro narrative of historical injustice is “based on an experience of grievances that extends over generations” and is a result of three interlocking phenomena – violence, impunity, and neglect- which in turn are rooted in the imposition “by force” of a monolithic Filipino identity and Philippine State “on multiple ethnic groups in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago that saw themselves as already pre-existing nations and nation-states.”
In her address at the public launches, TJRC chair Mo Bleeker, Special Envoy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and head of its “Task Force for Dealing with the Past and the Prevention of Atrocities,” explained that “it all began with violence: the forced incorporation of the Bangsamoro into the Philippine nation- state with a single Filipino identity, initiated by the colonial powers and pursued by and under the Republic.”
“This process of forced assimilation continues, accompanied by different forms of impunity endemic to Philippine society, as injustices persist and remain uncorrected. The process as a whole is marked by exclusion, failed development schemes, and mal-governance. These are the long-standing realities that constitute what is perceived as systematic neglect by the Bangsamoro people,” she said.
“In other words, and this is our conclusion as an independent commission,” Bleeker said, “the root cause lies in the imposition by force of a monolithic Filipino identity and Philippine State on multiple ethnic groups in Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago that saw themselves as already pre-existing nations and nation-states.”
Historical injustice across generations was cited “particularly with respect to land dispossession and its adverse effects upon their welfare as a community as well as their experience of widespread and serious human rights violations”
Bleeker said “more than 90” recommendations emerged from the consultation process that they conducted and added that these “can be implemented immediately by existing institutions as part of an ongoing agenda of a State that takes its responsibility” but noted that while this is not a solution by itself, “this is a good ‘must have’ first step.”
The creation of the NTJRCB, however, “is absolutely necessary in order to address the systemic forms of violence, impunity, and neglect that currently prevail. Its independence is crucial; so that, it can become a real contribution to the promotion of a new societal contract, the creation of conditions for reconciliation, and to prevent the recurrence of the conflict,” Bleeker said.
As recommended, the NTJRCB shall operate for six years “with the possibility of extending its mandate for another three years.” It shall consist of seven persons appointed by the President, five of whom are voting members — the Chairperson and the four Commissioners, who are responsible for convening the Sub-Commissions – while two representatives of Bangsamoro civil society “are members of the NTJCRB with a status of ex officio, non-voting members.”
The NTJRCB shall have four sub-commissions: Sub-Commission on Historical Memory (in the Bangsamoro); Sub-Commission against Impunity, for the Promotion of Accountability, and Rule of Law (in the Bangsamoro); Sub-Commission on Land Dispossession (in the Bangsamoro); and Sub-Commission on Healing and Reconciliation (in the Bangsamoro).
These sub-commissions in cooperation with relevant existing institutions and actors are tasked to conduct public and confidential hearings with the participation of victims of the conflict, to investigate serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and to implement remedies; contribute to the resolution of outstanding land disputes in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro, address the legacy of land dispossession, and implement remedies; contribute to the dismantling of impunity, promotion of accountability, strengthening of the rule of law in relation to past and present wrongdoings, and implement remedies; and promote healing and reconciliation among the different communities affected by the conflict.
Civil society reps to NTJRCB
The TJRC also recommended to the President to call on civil society organizations to create a Civil Society Forum for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation in the Bangsamoro that would monitor and support the implementation of the NTJRCB mandate “with a view to enhancing the satisfaction of victims and strengthening the guarantee of non-recurrence.”
The Civil Society Forum shall recommend a list of five names, from among which the President will choose two representatives to serve as non-voting members of the NTJRCB.
It also recommended to the President to authorize the NTJRCB to create an Advisory Board, composed of eminent national and, if deemed useful, international persons with proven expertise in the field of ‘dealing with the past’ and reconciliation, to provide advice to the NTJCRB and support to the overall process of transitional justice, healing, and reconciliation.
An Executive Order creating the NTRCB was drafted and a list of nominees for appointment to the Commission was prepared. But the EO was not signed by then President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, allegedly due to time constraints.
By March 9, the President could no longer sign appointments due to the Constitutional ban of two months before election day.
The TJRC submitted its report separately to the peace panels on December 9 last year and to both panels on February 10 this year. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)