PEACETALK: Transitional Justice and the Bangsamoro

[Welcome Address: Launch of ForumZFD’s Moving Beyond: Towards Transitional Justice in the Bangsamoro Peace Process, at the Apo View Hotel, Davao City on July 14, 2014).

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this launch of the publication by the Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst, Forum Civil Peace Service – more popularly known as ForumZFD – entitled “Moving Beyond: Towards Transitional Justice in the Bangsamoro Peace Process.”

Moving Beyond… After the submission by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and its reported overhaul by Malacañan, we have all been a bit on edge as to what the response of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to these revisions is. We are glad that in a joint statement issued in Malaysia last Friday both the OPAPP and the MILF have announced “significant consensus” on the contents of the proposed bill that will serve as the legal foundation for the Bangsamoro political entity. Today, it seems like the negotiators are “moving beyond” this impasse and taking another step towards peace. We now only hope that the problems in the executive associated with the recent declaration by the Supreme Court of the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program will not weaken the leadership of the President in weighing in on Congress to pass this bill. “Moving beyond” these problems through the President’s forthcoming State of the Nation Address shall be challenging.

The ForumZFD, of course, meant something quite different when they substantially entitled the publication they are launching today: “Moving Beyond.” We may have thought that we had arrived with the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro (CAB). That is, at least, where the timeline of armed conflicts and peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF on page 40 ends. “Moving beyond” that is imperative. But not just with a draft BBL acceptable to the tenacious negotiators and the watchful President. Nor even with its finally being passed by Congress into law. ForumZFD’s publication is subtitled: “Towards Transitional Justice in the Bangsamoro Peace Process. ” That makes it, I propose, a very important publication.

Because the “Moving Beyond” means moving beyond our conflicts and wars into our hoped-for state of peace. It means moving beyond the complex situations where we have misunderstood and disrespected each other, the situations where we have refused to listen to each other, abused and betrayed one another, and have used our claims to truth, righteousness, honor, tradition and the will of God to rain bullets on each other with the intention of obliterating the other; or where we have allowed our fears to drive each other from lands, livelihood and homes, oppress, abuse, rape, maim, murder and slaughter each other, whether elderly or children, male or female.

But “moving beyond” this into the peace that we hope for in the Bangsamoro peace process may not be so easy. Finding agreement on the nuanced concepts fixed in documents on the negotiating table may be important, but affixing signatures to peace agreements or to a new Bangsamoro Basic Law does not insure peace, nor insulate the future from the evils and wrongdoings of the past. With the excitement of the immanent Bangsamoro political entity which we firmly hope will secure a real and meaningful autonomy for Muslim Filipinos, a temptation may be to think that the past will take care of itself, that we should all simply forgive and forget, and focus on the bright prospects of the future.

The trouble with this is that with the signing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, we shall not have solved the subsisting problem in the asymmetric relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Republic of the Philippines, that one is big and the other is bigger, that one is contained and the other contains, that one is secured and that the other secures, that one is autonomous and the other governs. Here, we shall not have addressed in practice the ambiguities in Filipino Muslim self-determination nor have solved the latent proclivities towards the use of power either in the name of their respective political entities or in the name of private interest in a manner that the other rejects as abusive, but where each resents or resists the power of the other to restrain, to moderate or to prevent, and each may find it easier to find relief in the barrel of a gun rather than in a fresh round of negotiations. Historical memories of how the Filipino Muslims were never conquered by the Spaniards, how sovereign sultanates were sold illegitimately to the Americans, how Muslims resisted American rule much longer than Filipinos from the north did, and how Filipinos took on a colonizing mien or an oppressive face, may all work to undermine a rewarding exercise of Muslim autonomy within the Philippines. Sensitive here shall be the parallel exercise of power in the administration of wealth, security or even of culture. “Moving beyond” may therefore have to address the repressed issue of self-determination in a manner that is genuinely respected by the Government of the Philippines, even though this may be out of the box as far as the Philippine Constitution is concerned. “Moving beyond” may mean taking up measures by the Filipino people to woo the Bangsamoro people to finally choose to remain Filipino, whatever the cost, and to prove to them that it is in their welfare as in the welfare of the entire nation that they do.

With the BBL, we shall also not have solved the problems in the relationships between the Bangsamoro and the non-Bangsamoro peoples. Even as the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in the Bangsamoro territories formally welcome the immanent constitution of the Bangsamoro political entity, there is still intense apprehension as to whether their rights under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (RA 8371), especially to their ancestral domains, shall be respected, or whether their welfare shall be promoted under the Bangsamoro. As the publication “Moving Beyond…” explains, this apprehension is based on the IPs’ experience of their rights not having been respected under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); it is based on decades of their playing unwilling host to the hostilities between the Moro liberation movements and the Philippine Armed Forces. “Moving Beyond” may mean acknowledging the injustices visited on the IPs from both the side of the Moros as well as the side of the Armed Forces, assuring them reparation, and genuine prospects for a brighter future under the Bangsamoro.
While it may be clear that the conflicts of the past, at least when we consider such as the Ilaga vs. the Blackshirt and the Ilaga vs. the Barracuda battles and Martial law under Ferdinand Marcos, were not per se conflicts of religions, variants of Islam in the identity of the Bangsamoro are as inextricable as variants of Christianity in the identity of the majority of Filipinos. Both Islam and Christianity have in matured interpretations of their faith affirmed the legitimacy of the other. Yet, intolerant, fundamentalist and aggressively-proselytizing interpretations in both faiths may militate against the religious diversity that freedom of religions under the Philippine Constitution envisages. Contributing to the religious conditioning of strife in the past may have been weaknesses in religious instruction in both religions, e.g. where freedom of religions was not stressed or where “the Common Word” was not acknowledged. “Moving Beyond” may entail authoritative commitment from the mainstreams of both faiths to broaden and intensify the education of their respective members, in the hope that this authentic deepening of diverse religious faiths in the Philippine context may indeed bring them closer to the Common Word and so closer to each other (cf.: Each may also need to nurture the elements of their faith that legitimately call for forgiveness, e.g., the Christian prayer for forgiveness, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, (Mt. 6:12)” and Islam’s “central concept: justice includes retaliation, but benevolence and forgiveness are the higher ideal” (Tikmasan, MB, 48).

With the enactment of the BBL we shall also not have solved the latent problems in the constructive nature of the Bangsamoro: that is, that this is not just a defined political entity, but a socio-cultural work-in-progress of Filipino Muslims and non-Muslim Filipinos re-defining themselves in living interaction, first, with one another, and then with non-Bangsamoro Filipinos in a manner that is culturally creative, integratuve and liberating. As Datu Mussolini Lidasan of the ADDU’s Al Qalam Institute for Muslim Identities and Inter-religious Dialogue in Southeast Asia does not tire to assert, “The Bangsamoro is not a homogeneous society.” Considering the thirteen ethno-linguistic peoples that comprise the Bangsamoro, the transition into the Bangsamoro political entity cannot reduce this diversity into a monolithic entity where one tribe lords it over the other. It has been asserted that the Zamboanga siege was greatly about the MNLF as Tausugs protesting that they were being left behind by MILF as Maguindanaoans (ibid.). At the same time, because this diversity is real, the Bangsamoro leadership must be wary of being manipulated by the power of traditional tribal leaders who have given themselves to corruption and betrayal of the interests of the Bangsamoro people. “Moving beyond” therefore would mean clear structures that recognize the diversity among the peoples of the Bangsamoro and empower genuine cultural interaction towards the constructive realization of the Bangsamoro, but protecting this process from traditional vested interests.

Finally, “Moving beyond” may mean moving beyond the personal wounds and losses due to past conflicts in the Bangsamoro Area. The recitation of injustices against the Bangsamoro may include the homesteading policies under the Americans, the Commonwealth and Magasaysay, through which Mindanawons lost their lands, the Manili Massacre under the Ilagas in 1971, the Jabidah Massacre and the Declaration of Martial Law under Marcos in 1972, or the bombing and siege of Jolo in 1974 under the Philippine Army. More recently, it may include the participants in the Zamboanga siege, and the collateral damage suffered by non-combatants. Wherever the rupture of a relative state of peace occurred and transformed it into a state of war or injustice, those who suffered displacement, physical and psychological injury were not only warriors and soldiers, but non-combatant women and children. “Moving beyond” may mean that they be given a chance to tell their stories in a manner that is heard and appreciated. The untold stories, the pent-up resentments, the unchecked rage must all be articulated, appreciated and acknowledged. Where possible, those responsible should be prosecuted and punished. Victims should be offered reparation for their sufferings – even if it is just what is necessary to help (tabang) them survive.

For those interested in the Bangsamoro issue because they are interested in peace, ForumZFD’s “Moving Beyond” is compulsory reading. It is about doing transitional justice: doing what is necessary in justice to transition from a situation of hostility and conflict to a situation of peace. Real peace: not the peace of the graveyard, where everyone is dead, nor the peace where everyone meets one another in a utopian state of innocence and goodness for the first time, but peace called forth from people who were just recently enemies; or relatives, friends or townmates of until just recently warring combatants; or relatives, friends or townmates of those who made combat necessary, all of whom still suffer the wounds and loss of loved ones and property due to combat, violence and injustice. For this reason, transitional justice is not easy. It involves people who are still alive, punishing perpetrators of injustice and atrocities of war, managing impunity, encouraging truth-telling, getting victims to participate in evolving transitional justice solutions, offering reparations, and the like. It is not easy, because it doesn’t always work. And the transition from conflict to peace sometimes even involves measured forgiveness and empowering love. That is why the ForumZFD publication is not entitled: “Moving Beyond: Transitional Justice in the Bangsamoro Peace Process” but “Moving Beyond: Towards Transitional Justice in the Bangsamoro Peace Process.” It is as provocative as it is exploratory, as certain as it is tentative. It discusses the concept of transitional justice, experiences in trying to implement it, and its requirements in the context of the Bangsamoro. That is why it is profoundly disturbing.

I am honored to welcome you to its launch. (Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, is the president of the Ateneo de Davao University. This piece is also posted in Fr. Tabora’s blog site, Permission to re-publish granted to MindaNews)