ADVOCACY MindaNOW: “If not today, tomorrow”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 June) — Many have now serious  doubts about the future of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) given Congress’ failure to pass it on time.

I have  a few thoughts I wish to share, coming from my modest work in the peace process. For instance,  I found out that  those who know what BBL is all about — and why it has to be passed —  are somehow supportive. Those who don’t and those who  entertain “fears” oppose it.  Otherwise put, those who do not know why we have to redress an injustice and address a generational grievance of the Bangsamoro are generally against it and must therefore be enlightened to be convinced.  Exorcising what haunts many is a must. There’s a lot more work to be done in this, I can tell. Perhaps, today’s hiatus is an opportunity.

HAND OF PEACE. I have this thought going through my mind: we may no longer have the same strategic opportunity at another time if we let this slip through our hands. For instance, here’s the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a rebel group that has publicly offered to partner with government; it has publicly expressed that it is forsaking the ways of violence and terrorism at a time when somewhere else in the Muslim world, some  bad guys are flaunting and trumpeting their barbaric ways.

That alone should move all of us to accept this proferred hand of peace. To turn away from it is sheer folly. Of course, we want to see MILF ‘s public avowals put to test by realities on the ground.  Given the prevailing distrust spawned by unfortunate events and lessons of the recent past, this is not easy. The interregnum period should be put to good use to do this.

Yes, there are trust and confidence issues that have to be addressed. There are also stringent and sacrosanct perimeters  that must be observed.

BIGOTRY. That this has been a divisive issue is a given. The lively and insightful debate can continue. But bigotry on all sides  has no place in this spirited discourse. A “bigot”, by the way, is one who stubbornly shuns and exhibits complete intolerance of any creed, belief or opinion that differs from his own.  To call our peace negotiators “traitors” is way below the gutters. It smacks of political grandstanding, which in the onset of the political season is perfectly understandable but definitely not acceptable and tolerable.

On the other hand,  to label those against the BBL as “anti-Moro” is also an  act of bigotry, pure and simple! We should relegate all those bigots to the ignominy of the stinking garbage dump  where they properly belong (Pardon the strong language but I mean every word of it)!

Although  we understand the big disappointment, bordering on anger of those who support the  Bangsamoro, saber rattling or the threat of war will not work. It will only  create a backlash.  Let us not begrudge  Congress for doing due diligence. Let us also not take it against all those who raise the alarm. When the smoke  clears,  the bottomline for us is to really pass a law that is inclusive and sustainable; we badly need a legal framework to address  that oft-quoted but not-too-well-understood “Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination. Let us moderate our angst. Ultimately, with need a law that is robust and can pass the test of constitutionality and time. Missing timelines is indeed dampening but it should not derail the peace train. The journey for peace must ultimately unite and not divide us all.

CRISIS. If there is a crisis now facing the Aquino administration on how to win support in the predominantly unbelieving and unsupportive  mainstream public on the BBL,  there is also an equally critical situation within  the  MILF given the missed expectations of a failed BBL amongst the Bangsamoro.

I am not surprised if there is a brewing and serious challenge now for the MILF leadership, headed by Kagi Murad (Al Haj Murad Ebrahim) on  how to internally convince its followers  to also “stay the course” and not walk away from the peace table.

Indeed,   of what value will all those assurances of Kagi Murad and company and their “staying the course” be  if they eventually lose grip and control of their forces?

HUMBLE ADVICE. My humble advice to the non-believers is to give it a try and let time test it. The pestering fear that entrenching a Bangsamoro law will provide fertile ground for secession in the future should be dispelled. On the contrary, it is an antidote to secession. It should unite and not divide.   But more than that, it renders justice to the Bangsamoro’s generational thirst for redress.

NO FEAR. Perish those fears. Government is and will always be on a high moral ground. The duty constituted authorities have all the options — and the muscle — to address any unintended result or eventuality that some of us are apprehensive about.  We should have no doubts about this at all. If things turn awry, Congress can even later strike down the law, if need be. The sovereign people have the final say. But to spurn a hand of peace is, I say again, sheer folly!

Whatever it takes, let us all, — the Bangsamoro  and the non-Bangsamoro — stay the course. There is no other option. If this does not happen today, then there is still a tomorrow.

[Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW.]