COMMENTARY: The BBL is not the problem, the armed conflict in Mindanao is

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 February) — The quest for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao has taken a vicious blow in the wake of the Mamasapano incident on January 25 that claimed the lives of 44 members of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force, 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and four innocent civilians.

Dubbed “Oplan Wolverine”, the mission was carried out to serve arrest warrants for high-ranking terrorists, one of them alleged Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan.” The government claimed that the SAF commandos were able to neutralize Marwan during the operation but combined forces of the MILF in the area and their breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) surrounded them on their way out of Mamasapano. Marwan was killed but in return, the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) – a product of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF borne out of 17 years of tedious negotiations – has suffered a setback.

The BBL is now sadly caught in the political cross-fire in the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy.

In the immediate repercussion of the Mamasapano incident, Sen. Bongbong Marcos halted the hearing of the BBL by his local government committee while Senators Allan Peter Cayetano and JV Ejercito instantly withdrew their sponsorships of the proposed measure. Emotions have been extremely high with some quarters deliberately fanning the flames of prejudice and a tsunami of social media posts ranged from grief to rage, from shock to disbelief. Some called for sobriety while others pounced on the call for an all-out-war. The whole nation is mourning, bleeding.

The noble pursuit to achieve a ‘just and lasting’ peace in Mindanao is never an easy task. Truth be told: ‘Many have tried, many have failed.’ Peace is a long journey that requires patience, sincerity, goodwill, political will, and utmost dedication of all concerned and affected sectors of the nation, hence, the need for a carefully crafted peace process and the people’s collective and meaningful participation in finding resolution to and addressing the roots of the conflict.

Now, we urge and challenge warmongers including those who are flirting with the slogan of an “all-out-war” option to kindly and dispassionately look at the data of the costs of the armed conflict in Mindanao. This decades-old armed conflict has directly affected not just Mindanao but the entire country—discouraging foreign and local investments and ultimately compromising the nation’s coffers with the previous governments spending more on war than on basic social services.

A huge number of the victims of the conflict in Mindanao have been ordinary civilians: women and men, young and old who were either displaced from their communities or killed in the crossfire by bullets and bombs that recognize no gender, creed or stature. Official data likewise reveal that the impacts and social costs of the war in Mindanao in various terms have been vicious and costly. The conflict has claimed over 120,000 human lives and displaced millions with 982,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the year 2000 alone when then President Estrada declared an all-out war, and 600,000 after the Supreme Court declared the Memorandum Of Agreement on Ancestral Domain as unconstitutional, in 2008. The number of IDPs is estimated to have reached two million since the conflict started in the early 70s according to International Alert.

On economic losses, about P640 Billion (1970-2001) or P20 Billion annually has been lost in terms of damages to businesses and properties and potential investments and businesses in the region. The all-out war in 2000 alone cost P1.3 Billion while the government spent P73 Billion in its war with the MNLF from 1970-1996.

We, at the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), with our decades of peace building work and advocacy for peace and conflict prevention in Mindanao and around the region, stand firm in our resolve that the BBL is neither the problem nor the cause of Mamasapano. In fact it is an instrument that can help jump start the lasting peace that we all covet. It is the best ticket we have to the road to achieve our elusive dream of peace. The cycle of violence in Mindanao expressed in armed resistance against has deep historical roots. Thus, the demand for a just, meaningful and lasting peace requires revisiting the past before facing the future—failure to do this will simply make the ‘past’ always ‘present’.

We support the call for truth and justice not just for all the fallen in Mamasapano but truth and justice for all the peoples of Mindanao who have suffered decades of historical injustices. Passing the BBL will be an expression of rendering justice to all including the fallen warriors in Mamasapano. Passing the BBL is more than just passing a law. It is a recognition, an admission of the past mistakes committed against the peoples of Mindanao and the willingness to rectify these injustices.

This most regrettable clash shows us that much remains to be done on our path to genuine peace. Our common cause remains challenged in the countryside, in the halls of Congress and more so in the minds and hearts of many Filipinos. But this is the reality we must address if we are to seek a permanent solution to the so-called Moro question. The proposed BBL, while imperfect and in need of enhancement, is so far the best alternative we have before us. It is a collective work in progress anchored on 40 years of conflict, negotiations and lessons learned at a very high cost to many of us. It exemplifies our best expression of engagement, involvement, investment and discourse on the Bangsamoro. The Mamapasano incident shows us that we cannot yet rest and entrust the peace process to a roadmap without continuing to be engaged, involved and aware of the travails and possibilities that dot and crisscross our course to peace.

As civil society and citizens, we are challenged to seek clarity and resolution for the lives lost and the promise diminished in the wake of this violence. It underscores the ease with which some events can still quickly escalate into confrontation and bloodshed, despite mechanisms in place to counter them. We can only begin to surmise how this event redounds to the ongoing peace process between the government and the MILF. We have long valued the sizable investments made through the years by both parties and their supporters in building mutual confidence and trust, coupled with mutually agreed-upon processes and mechanisms. Through those years, these systems have borne up well, granted they are allowed to fully function. Thus we remain steadfast in our call for respecting and trusting the mechanisms and processes in place, and staying the course of peace. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Isagani V. Abunda II is the Media and Advocacy Officer of the Initiatives for International Dialogue.)