MELBOURNE (MindaNews/16 Nov) — Establishing peace in Muslim Mindanao need not be treated as an indivisible proposition. Correspondingly, the rejection of unconstitutional aspects of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), if there are to be found, should not prejudice its more important provisions. Indeed, there are certain prescriptions in this proposed law that are absolutely vital because they can forge a stronger foundation for peace in the region. They pertain to acts, which I maintain, are so important that they have to be done regardless of the fate of the BBL.
The most vital one is Article XIV on Rehabilitation and Development. This provision of course is to be accomplished in conjunction with the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. It is already a well-known fact that disarming the protagonists of an armed conflict is simply the first step to peace-building. And completing this phase in the soonest time possible is extremely important because it sets up the groundwork for succeeding peace-building measures. More importantly, it is only when the instruments of warfare, and the attitudes that come with it, are gone that the environment becomes suitable for the stakeholders of the conflict to pursue programs that facilitate the healing and transformation of those communities ravaged by the fighting. Accordingly, it is absolutely incumbent, not just on the people in Mindanao but of Filipinos all over the country, to rally behind this difficult and cathartic process.
Another extremely important provision is Article IX on Basic Rights. No Filipino now will even dispute that Muslim Filipinos have legitimate grievances arising from the unjust dispossession of their property and customary rights and from their displacement and marginalization in Philippine society. Therefore, the reckoning of past violations called for in Section 3 is absolutely indispensable. Indeed, it is already a widely accepted practice in post-conflict situations that for a polity to move forward, it has to come to terms with its past, no matter how ugly it may be. And this process is neither purely nor even primarily, a legal one. As such, it ought to be undertaken through public deliberations in the political sphere. Accordingly, it is imperative that the transitional justice commission, recently organized and actually mandated by Section 4, must be allowed to commence its work unhindered and with the full support of the national government. This pursuit for justice is a socio-political exercise that the country needs to undertake not just to account for all the widespread wrongdoings inflicted upon the Filipino Muslim community, but also to ensure that no Filipino suffers this fate ever again.
And in conjunction with the aforementioned transitional justice commission, the Bangsamoro Historical Commission called for in Sections 19-20 of Article IX must also be organized forthwith. The preservation of the rich and vibrant culture of Muslim Mindanao and all of its historical sites is absolutely indispensable because doing these will contribute immensely to our on-going pursuit of a national identity. Furthermore, such moves will facilitate a deeper learning among Filipinos of our country’s proud pre-colonial history. In fact, I anticipate that this intimate exposure to Muslim Mindanao will bring to all of us a greater appreciation of our nation’s indigenous culture. Consequently, this office must be created with urgency and haste even if it has to be done by executive action only.
But provisos that ought to be independently pursued are not limited to these socio-cultural mechanisms. There are certain economic measures in the BBL which should be vigorously and immediately pursued by the national government. The first one is found in Section 28 of Article XIII proposing the establishment of Halal certifying agencies in the region and the creation of an economic infrastructure to support this particular enterprise. I actually see no legal hindrance for the national government, through the Department of Trade and Industry or through the Mindanao Development Authority, to partner with relevant local governments and set up the framework for this highly profitable industry now. Likewise, the second provision which is Section 30 on the implementation of an Islamic banking system in the country. This economic activity is actually being pursued now by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas [See http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/speeches.asp?id=456]. I really see no cogent reason why a regional bureaucracy should even have a critical role in these two economic endeavours such that its full roll out is made contingent on the organization of a Bangsamoro administration. I genuinely believe Muslim Filipinos are fully capable and willing to commence with these economic undertakings independent of the BBL.
And finally, Article X on the Bangsamoro Justice System could actually stand alone as a single piece of legislation to replace the outdated Presidential Decree No. 1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines. This is a martial law piece of legislation that is certainly begging for reform. Obviously, the robust legal framework contemplated here does not purport to install Islam as an official religion in the region for this would violate the secular regime instituted in the Constitution. Nevertheless, in a multicultural society such as ours, the contribution of Islamic principles can vastly improve the quality and depth of public policy discourse. Accordingly, the innovative reforms in this section should still be adopted with or without the BBL.
There is no intention here to protest or block the passage of the BBL. The fate of this law is really in the hands of those who fervently believe in the idea of a Bangsamoro. The whole point of this piece is simply to illustrate that peace and development in Muslim Mindanao need not be totally dependent on the enactment of the BBL. Indeed, some of the more important steps towards this goal can be taken without it.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wants to contribute his/her share to peace building in Mindanao. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is presently completing a Masters of Law and Development in Melbourne Law School. He recently published a book entitled, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective)