PEACETALK: Matching the Peace Commission with Parity of Esteem: What kind of BBL comes after politicking?

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 12 April) — Where is written in parchment that bloodcurdling politicians are supposed to be on God’s side of public spiritedness? President Aquino III was well-advised “to pray for haters during quiet time” according to the Malacanang press. And where all the Mamasapano investigations are concerned, the ‘element of bloodlust’ was supposed to come from both spoiler-skeptics and anti-BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) lawmakers to vanquish an enemy ‘monster’, the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). By Easter Sunday, hate and hurt—with its social impact on divided societies or diverse communities—are rid of its grid grips by periodic religious frenzies. Do we expect the case for political obstructionism laid to rest, or more politicking the death of BBL?

Passion without Pain

Observance of the Holy Week gave politicians pause to reflect on being peace deal breakers or not. To diffuse the media’s interest in the previous Sunday bloodbath, last week front-page-news carried another bloodletting for human interest, and public piety. The actual crucifixion re-enactment at San Pedro Cutud in Pampanga province began on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday recollection, and culminated on Palm Sunday. This narrative of the Passion which the historical figure of Jesus Christ experienced is, among Catholics, expurgation and spiritual cleansing.

From Islam-Christian tradition, unlike the canonical Gospels, the Qur’an tilts the theological context not to the Passion but to the miraculous birth of Jesus as a manifestation of divine mercy. Jesus is humbly exulted the “son of Mary” born under a palm tree. These verses seem familiar readings to Christians about the mystery of life and death, but are subtly different:

  • Qur’an text referent: The “peace” of Jesus is read in Surah Maryam: “Peace be upon me the day of my birth, The day of my death, And the day I shall be raised up to life [again].” (Q. 19:33)
  • Qur’an verse on resurrection in Surah Maryam: “Man says: “What! When I am dead, shall I then be raised up alive? Does not man reflect that We created him before out of nothing?” (Q. 19:66-67).

It is a matter of faith, not politics of passion without pain. To fight for truth, the price is ‘to take care not to kill it’ with the weapons we use to defend it, but to restore the power of words in diplomacy.

First, every aspect of death blow in the battlefield is rehearsed, visualized and conditioned. It helps to ‘desensitize’ combat troops and mujahideens alike to the gruesome suffering of the “enemy”. If you imagine the “target time” as a prelude, the immediate engaging of the target is the “target behavior.” In the quiet of conscience, we suppose you are a Catholic soldier-veteran “elite force trained-to- kill” who is troubled by act of killing NPA (New Peoples Army) insurgents. Or, you are pictured as the law-enforcement officer who has had “baptism of fire” in the combat zones affecting ordinary civilian residents in Muslim Mindanao.

Second, what of humans rendered hors de combat and the collateral damage once the weapons switch from “safe” to “fire” is done? Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) follows the act of killing. In talking rather than fighting wars amongst the people, policymakers are confusing the legality of their actions with their morality (justice) after the event. Public outcry over the Mamasapano episode bothers us with a new climate of opinion tied to the body of international humanitarian law (IHL). In reality, it behooves those responsible to account for it.

Look at Muslims with Parity of Esteem

The news industry never gears up for the Muslim depictions of Prophet Jesus for the simple explanation that the stereotypes (and ignorance) mar mutual appreciation of sources of relationships between the two great fraternal faiths. Would news reporter or cable interviewer assigned to ‘sidebar duty’ want to know where to begin the “process” in dialogue of religions for peace and how the coverage works?

Begin with Vatican II document:

“Upon the Muslims too (the Vatican II) looks with esteem,” the Nostra Aetate cites, “for they worship One God.” Clearly the Council of Church known as Vatican II was convened to enable it to meet the challenges of the modern world. This papal encyclical came as the decolonization era ended. While globalism gained currency hybridization of indigenous peoples came along with it. Nationalist politics rediscovered grass root relationships between ‘folk wisdom and schooled intelligence’.

I want to dispel whatsoever image within the public eye is mistaking Moro Islamic resistance surges to an exclusivist sect. Needless to say, there are modernizers within this homegrown popular movement for unhyphenated Bangsamoro entity: the ideology of intellectuals (within Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front), who foster “national liberation” directed at the urban elite, and the peasantry, which feels it.

One huge task for faith-based diplomacy:

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle who presides over the Peace Commission must seek for honesty and truth found in Muslim Mindanao. That truth is ‘bread and land’: Demographic shifts driven by a capitalist economy accompanied by rent seeking neo-despoilers ruin our ancestral domain. The critical task is not to abandon matters already devolved in the organic Act, nor to derogate negotiated economic provisions of the BBL. Political economy for interpreting a new “link” ideology of parity of esteem and parity rights is basic.

Among the bundle of principles that I relish crafting into the GPH-MILF peace pacts is the “parity of esteem” (trns. murwa), which the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) incorporated into the text of the BBL. Some facts are crystal clear to the Catholic Church leaders at the highest level and Bishop-Businessmen lobby who are now pushing for a change: Pope John Paul II who was the first Pontiff to visit Mindanao is now canonized Saint. More sea changes: the new Pope Francis belongs to the Society of Jesus (SJ) order; for historical reasons, the Jesuits were twice expelled from the Episcopal Island Province returning to Mindanao in the second-half of the 19th century. One founding myth celebrates Manila as ‘the ever loyal city’ in contrast to Mindanao ‘the land of promise’.

I closely read the First Manila Synod written in archaic Spanish version and the English translation to draw some baseline for spatially-bound process. Surely the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) as modern ‘men of cloth’ could cast off some diocesan “deadening dogma” which was more appropriate to the pre-Vatican II era than in the contemporary faith-based diplomacy. Just as remarkable for modernizing efforts, deconstructing the Constitution has evolved interpretive tools from archival referent for discursive effects.

Another heavy task for national consensus:

The Peace Council must reach out for national consensus beyond testy leaders. Favored elite insiders develop a stake in the status quo: This is unacceptable. Common citizens are increasingly intolerant of a political establishment that is dishonest. If Aquino III entered office on a simple promise to become an ‘honest president, can this man be a good citizen, too? “Ordinary voters,” it is said, “will not get angry at a corrupt politician if they don’t know that money is being stolen” in the first place. His watch ends up declining in popularity over the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) and Oplan Exodus stoking the BBL.

Meanwhile Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo has earned the distinction of being the first and only Cardinal in Mindanao. The fact is the Mindanao Bishops virtually ignored his pitch for the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain). More notably, the Prelate advanced three ideas: think injustices to the Moro loss of identity, sovereignty, and political integration. What congressional Committee hearings must grasp is this: BBL provides for a rights-based referendum, not for “creeping expansion”. Corollary to “parity of esteem” we can advance changing tack based on the principle of “homophily” for like-minded persons to interact with others who are like themselves. There’s a need to find consensus on the pragmatic ways to face up to questions of social justice and issues related to transitional justice and reconciliation.

If the Republic was formed out of a prior state of conflict and war, bringing back the state system is the imagined end point of formative process for writing the BBL. From the first route leading towards the unusually bloody period up to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the Spanish Crown contemporaneously recognized the emergent system of discrete, autonomous territories by written compacts with Sultan Kudarat and Sultan Pulalun. This process entails alternative interpretation of the Mindanao conflict considering the sultanates as a pre-given baseline. Ask why the diminished status of the Magindanaw and Sulu polities still persists to pose the questions on requisite national territory and governance where borders intersect. Ranaw shares certain ruling realities until misinterpreted by one or the other.

Covering Muslim Mindanao

National media reporting of the struggle of nonstate actors in Mindanao often project the victims and aggressors into the “Big Picture” yet neglect to look beyond government past failings and current botches. Truth is we disdain the distilled essence of perils recanting recent “massacres” labeled after-the-fact erroneous choice of political ends: killing or talking. Media analysts of this broad brush of reality for horrors reveal only the Big Picture. This pseudo-abstraction provides ‘preemptive exoneration’ that might be more appropriate in theology than in politics. But a faith-based diplomacy does not ask, ‘which side are you on’? How does the press handle the story? On page one, nothing.

Muslims continue to face discrimination but, after all, we are accustomed to distrust government or doubt whether the state can abandon its pretext for religious neutrality. When there’s unusually big story about Bangsamoro aspirations, in practice the tabloids in vernacular Tagalog or Bisaya make up superb distillation of idiom of the ordinary taxi-driver or barbershop talk into their headline writing. No way is ‘the messenger to blame’ howsoever for the context in misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians. Observe current Radio-television format: an anchorperson seizes the moment of stories of bloody-stuff while having “backchat” with a reporter who just finished reciting a storyline. That popular montage perhaps appeals to the brain-dead viewers.

While peering into the news service trendy-reportage, for journalistic ‘license’ at once I discern homily-like ‘secular sermon’ that opinion editorials devote to space. Secularist value is meant to keep apart the civic and religious spheres. Obviously when it comes to the grotesque (or the most vile in man and woman, too!) journalists find it juicer than sketchy normality, which they abhor. Weaving episodic narratives into the business of international “war on terrorism” in form and content is not a common desired outcome. (Consider geopolitics in Marwan end result: mutilation of a dead-man’s fingers, for what?). Corrective measures for “unintended risks and rewards” are important factors that define the limits of security-shared activity without creating dysfunctional rift or domestic disarray. That is why policing and administration of justice is an important component of the BBL.

Weigh in FAB and CAP beyond BBL

How can this new Peace Council deploy in-depth contemporary analysis to change national consensus for interpreting the nature of the Mindanao conflict itself, and of the community divide or the diverse society? Will the Peace Council weigh in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) substantive deals without acting as pressure group for BBL? If this predominantly Catholic country finds it hard to face up to the ‘undigested history’ of the Moro wars, it must correct a legacy of ‘indelible imprints’ of its colonial past. The odds do not spring from a vacuum: readiness to pass BBL is a clear path but time is running out.

The dimension dealing with “the totality of the government” or “whole of government” is an articulation of sovereignty as social construct. Whereas the MILF panel prefers constructive ambiguity, the GPH panel wants to deal with constitutional flexibilities under partnership initiative. To MILF panel, centrality and ambiguity condition each other in diplomacy over time as in political discourse. This is not a futile academic exercise. Politics of law aside, one of my serious research scholarships was to ‘bring back the state’ in something structurally prior to it. This is reduced at empirical level into:

(1) the ‘mystery of sovereignty’ taken to be given to a unitary entity;                                                                            (2) the genealogy of ‘earned sovereignty’ for consolidation of the state as its unitary character and property; and                                                                                                                                                                (3) the newly recast ‘conditional sovereignty’ made to apply on a global basis.

Deconstructing the conceptual vocabularies means unraveling the foundational tenets of the Republic. Pragmatism enables us to arrive at minimal consensus to define totality of relationships based on the modernizing model of asymmetry (de facto and de jure). It is forged in the collective set of protocols: BBL as embedded in the legal understanding of the state system.

Can FAB and CAB, without legislation, become part of domestic law? Or, does the Constitution accord the peace pacts the status only of domestic law? Altogether the FAB and CAB and BBL take broad leeway to define contested constitutional issues that minimize how central authority might imperil public trust. I submit that Congress has the organic mandate to pass the BBL as “An Act of Exception”. It is premised on Article X of the Constitution on three counts: one, enumerated areas for law-making competence; two, an amendatory process requiring a plebiscite; and three, a requisite qualified majority votes. The clue to constitutional bodies only suggests openness to interpretations of newly listed power sharing. Crafting joint authority wielded over the Bangsamoro can be formulated in IGR (Inter-Governmental Relations) for a parliamentary system in the area of autonomy.

Taking the next step sans Charter Change

We are aware of the 72-page memorandum on the conduct of peace negotiations offered during the MOA-AD litigation by current CJ Sereno (then a lawyer for the petitioners). Former CJ Panganiban in his PDI column page has cited this document, as one vital reference for BBL. I traced this position to the logic of Westphalian system of authority and power (now hegemonic in modern world politics). But there have been gaps that exist in different political order. With due respect, it is pivotal not to confuse order with hierarchy, and the equally problematic identification of the state with nation in modernity. Most notable is an exceptional model of American negativity system; therefore, a key to understanding the Philadelphian experiment is republicanism. The time has come to rectify a major flaw that lies in the presidential-adaptation of a republican state system of ‘unity without union’ to reflect the Bangsamoro dimension. (Datu Michael O. Mastura is Mastura is President of the Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy. He was a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, and served as Congressman of the 1st district of Maguindanao from 1987 to 1995. He served as senior member of the MILF peace panel and chairs its Advocacy Committee. He contributes analyses and commentaries to MindaNews.)