(Opening statement of Atty. Anna Tarhata Basman, chief legal counsel, government peace panel in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, at the Media Roundtable on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Pearlmont Hotel, Cagayan de Oro City, 21 February 2015)
CAGAYAN DE ORO CTY (MindaNews / 21 Feb) — Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.
The past weeks have taken a toll on the peace process.
Public opinion, which a couple of months ago was overwhelmingly positive and in favor of our milestones in the negotiating table, has generally turned against it. Sincerity and commitment are constantly questioned. Timelines and deadlines have been reset. The BBL, decommissioning, and other aspects of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro are under even stricter scrutiny.
The past weeks have taken a toll on our dynamics as a multi-cultural Filipino society. Naiveté has perhaps made some of us believe that we were slowly achieving national reconciliation and understanding only to find out that division was still brimming on the surface just waiting for a trigger to explode.
But more tragically, the past weeks have taken a toll on the lives of the families, friends, and loved ones of the 65 or 67 Filipinos who died on that fateful day in Mamasapano.
Calls for justice abound. And rightfully so. Every single one of them deserves no less than to have those responsible held accountable for the loss of lives. Let us call for justice but not prejudge.
Let reason and facts sway our opinion, not deeply held biases and mistrust.
Let us also not view this incident in isolation.
The reality of the fragility of the security situation in a conflict-affected area is precisely that – a reality. We offer the Bangsamoro Basic Law not as a be-all-and-end-all solution to the decades-long conflict but as a crucial step towards the right direction – the direction of recognizing historical injustices, the need to address them, and only then to move on. We offer the BBL as a means of establishing a regional government with the authority to craft and implement government policies that are closer and more responsive to the peculiar needs of these specific communities. We offer the BBL as a step towards normalizing the situation on the ground, where law and order prevail not because of fear of military might but because of the general sense of belongingness and empowerment without the need to use arms.
This step definitely involves not only the parties to the agreement, not only the negotiators, not only the various peoples living within the Bangsamoro, but the entire country. If there is one thing that came out right from all these, it is that we are given the chance to introduce to the public consciousness the roots of the conflict – the horrors suffered not only in the hands of foreign colonizers but also those in power thereafter. Indeed, voices to this effect have always been weak but they are getting stronger by the day.
We offer the BBL as an essential tool towards giving the Bangsamoro something that is guaranteed in international law and reiterated in our Constitution – their right to self-determination within the bounds of our Supreme Law. By all means review the BBL. Make it stronger and less susceptible to judicial nullification. Let our lawmakers come up with a BBL that will stand constitutional scrutiny AND address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro. We remain confident that our legislators will not shirk from this duty.
The events of late also provide us the opportunity to review and recheck our perspective.
We have to stop thinking of the BBL as a reward to the MILF, a prize they earned after negotiating with the Government for 17 long years. We need to realize that the BBL is a government action, a legislation, that is due all Moros, all Lumads, all Christian settlers, all Filipinos in conflict-affected areas who are tired of the status quo, who are tired of living their lives awaiting the next armed skirmish – whatever the trigger may be – that will leave them IDPs, out of school youth, orphans, widows, or worse, dead. We should start recognizing that taking away the BBL is not a punishment to the MILF but a disservice to all the Filipinos who have offered their lives for peace in Mindanao – the 44 from the SAF, the 18 from the MILF, the 3 or 5 civilians and the 120,000 nameless others all crying out for justice and peace in the Bangsamoro. We should not further add to the statistics.
Thank you very much. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Peacetalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her piece on peace in Mindanao