COMMENT: … Biased Media, Too

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 11 Feb) – Bangsamoro is stalled. The BBL that would have launched it by June 30, 2016 had been disabled early in the Congress and substituted with the BLBAR. But, BLBAR had failed to take off when the Congress adjourned last February 5. Whether Bangsamoro can be relaunched during the next administration hinges on how Moro-friendly would be the next President and the non-Moro members of the 17th Congress.

One critical question: “Who killed the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law)?” No one has asked, “Why did BLBAR (Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) fail to take off?” This is significant. The substitutions (HB 5811 for HB 4994 and SB 2894 for SB 2408) had been done to make Bangsamoro acceptable to the Congress and the critics among non-Moro sectors in the country.

The failure of BLBAR to take off clearly shows how Moro-unfriendly the non-Moro members of 16th the Congress are.

Blame and Denial

A review of media reports, especially those in January and February, would reveal a state of blame and denial.

Insincere, irresponsible: The leaders of the Congress are insincere as the majority of its members are irresponsible, both of the House and of the Senate. On receiving Draft BBL from the President, they gave assurance to give BBL the top priority and pass it “as soon as possible”; it turned out to mean “passage never possible”.

There seemed no shortage of excuses, no end to self-imposed deadlines. But the line had to end; the truth had to prevail.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the BBL will not pass but it’s not dead since its root, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, is still alive. The BBL can be refiled in the 17th Congress incorporating the testimonies of the resource persons and documents submitted during this 16th Congress. (, February 1, 2016: Senate ‘can’t finish BBL’ but bill not ‘dead’ – Drilon). He meant BLBAR, not BBL.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. told media the non-passage of the BBL is a blessing in disguise. While failing, the Congress contributed to the continuing peace process by bringing all sides into the debate over the creation of a new autonomous region. The 51 public hearings, 200 hours of committee level debates and eight months of consultations on the BBL addressing issues of political and fiscal autonomy were time well spent to prove the House’s sincerity in working for peace in Mindanao. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, February7, 2016: Failure to pass BBL a ‘boon’—Belmonte)

They rationalize to deny and cover up the blame for insincerity and irresponsibility. BBL ended ill. Why worry? “All’s well” still.

Sopping up spelt milk: Malacañang saw no reason to get agitated despite the failure of the Congress to pass the proposed BBL. It welcomed MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal’s assurance to the United Nations that the separatist group would remain committed to peace despite the non-passage of the BBL. The CAB still stands as the cornerstone for working forward. (The Philippine Star, February 7, 2016: ‘No need to get agitated over failure to pass BBL’) This was the latest spin from the ever cavalier Palace spokesmen.

From government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, “We are down, but we are not out.” While accepting BBL’s demise, she expressed confidence of seeing the next administration continue talking peace with Muslim rebels, particularly the MILF with the expectation that the next Congress to decide favorably on the BBL. “What we need is more patience,” she counseled. (The Philippine Star, February 5, 2016: Peace panel on BBL: Down but not out)

Weak leadership: No matter the apologies from the Congress leaders and the Palace, trying to spare the President from blame and to prop up his commitment and resolve, his weak leadership together with that of the leaders of the Congress is among the slayers of the BBL. Facts are more convincing than words.

The administration coalition led by the Liberal Party is more than 70 percent majority in the Senate and the House. Yet, the President and House leaders failed to muster majority support for Bangsamoro; they failed to overcome the majority’s anti-Moro biases and prejudices.

In the House, sessions were suspended very frequently due to the lack of quorum. Instead of applying the rules to compel attendance, the leaders only pleaded, admitting that by the lack of quorum the majority had no interest in Bangsamoro. Still they were optimistic of passing the BLBAR “IF there is a quorum”.

Senate President Drilon practically gave Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., chair of the Committee on Local Government, a free hand in re-writing Draft BBL according to his bias disregarding the CAB with the consent of the committee members. They approved the Marcos BLBAR that disregarded the CAB.

The OP Legal Team thoroughly vetted Draft BBL for three months to be sure it adhered to the Constitution and the CAB. Yet, when the Congress summarily declared Draft BBL as grossly unconstitutional the President did not defend the integrity of the OP Legal Team by challenging the Congress to pass the BBL in its original and let the Supreme Court decide the questions of constitutionality or reject it outright. The substitution, also called the “Palace version”, must have had his consent.

Media Role

Media has a vital role in the peace process: “boost” or “abort”. In the Mindanao peace process, we see from the news reports and opinion columns of national media more of “abort”.

Media are keepers of enlightenment, not sowers of controversies. By the first, media propagate truth, sobriety, understanding and order; by the second, abet sensationalism and chaos.

The peace process in Mindanao is basically the process of reconciling the deep-seated biases and prejudices between the majority Christians and the minority Moros and IPs (Indigenous Peoples) of the Philippines. These biases and prejudices, while basically not religious, have generated fears, distrust and intolerance between the majority and minority; on the latter, they have inflicted historical injustices.

The peace process seeks to banish fears and distrust and render justice to the minority. This needs the full understanding of the historical roots of the majority-minority conflict; and on the part of the majority, magnanimity and charity towards the minority – as aptly agreed by the Government-MILF peace negotiators, “parity of esteem”.

What the peace process seeks to achieve, media can boost. How? News and opinions must not only transcend anti-Moro biases and prejudices but must also cite, as necessity arises, relevant circumstances and historical facts to put issues in proper perspective. That will strengthen the bridge of understanding, not widen the divide and worsen the conflict.

Biased, Too

Unfortunately, the national media are in the hands of the Christian majority most of whom are also afflicted with anti-Moro biases and prejudices. As the saying goes, water cannot rise above its source. So it is with the national media as regards the Mindanao peace process.

In what ways are the national media biased? How did they help abort the peace process?

By their anti-Moro biases, prejudices, distrust, intolerance and fears, the members of the Congress aborted the Basic Law or Organic Act to launch Bangsamoro. By their news stories and opinion columns, the media fanned the same bias, prejudices, etc. outside of the Congress, aided by the social-media.

The test of the pudding is in the eating. A few samples will show how the national media conspired with the Congress against the Mindanao peace process and the Bangsamoro.

Constitutionality: This was the main issue against BBL; it remained alive in BLBAR. Media gave more space and prominence to unconstitutionality as denounced by the anti-BBL critics in and out of the Congress. The Government and MILF peace panels and the Bangsamoro advocates were inadequately heard; the side of the OP Legal Team, never.

Had media diligently studied the BBL, they could have righted their slant and tempered their opinions with the fact that BBL was constitutional according to Article X, Sections 15 to 21 of the 1987 Constitution. That would have made a big difference in people’s understanding of Bangsamoro and the constitutionality of the BBL.

Evidently, they relied on the majority on the Congress and anti-BBL constitutionalists. The living members of the 1987 Constitutional Commission had issued a position paper affirming the constitutionality of the BBL. But the position paper never merited serious media appreciation proper to its purpose.

Sub-state and dismemberment: These are the monsters feared by the majority in the Congress. Like the prejudiced congressional majority, media has been oblivious of BBL provisions denying sub-state and guaranteeing against dismemberment of the country.

In defending the Congress against the criticisms of the Bangsamoro advocates, The Daily Tribune in its February 6 editorial castigated the critics reminding them what the end of the Mindanao peace process is: Goal is peace, not a substate”. Correct but it is ironic. Bangsamoro, misconceived as a sub-state, is the way to peace; its launching aborted, the goal is in limbo.

Mamasapano and MILF’s sincerity: The Mamasapano disastrous misadventure of the PNP Special Action Forces stoked the anti-Moro bias, prejudices, etc.. To the non-Moro majority, it showed the insincerity of MILF in negotiating peace; it raised more the fear that after the establishment of Bangsamoro the Moros will secede. That vilified the MILF and the Moro; that increased and radicalized BBL opposition.

Media sensationalized the tragedy and inhumanity to fan anger and drown out truth and reason. It is obvious that anger fueled by anti-Moro bias, prejudices, etc. also possessed the national media community. Reporting the events as they happened was media’s bounden duty. Reporting them with sobriety, reason and the whole truth might not have pleased the anti-Moro majority; but it could have put the blame where blame must be rightfully due and spared the Mindanao peace process.

MILF as Bangsamoro representative: A blogger identified as “Ilda” posted an article on February 15, 2015 entitled BBL: An agreement with just one Muslim rebel group will not bring peace to Mindanao”, a rambling anti-BS Aquino piece. Like others who had raised this issue “Ilda” missed the focus of the Government-MILF negotiation which was to forge an agreement to unite the Moros to bring peace to Mindanao.

As a blogger, “Ilda” should have read well the CAB to make her readers understand that MILF will only lead the Bangsamoro Transition Authority. After that, MILF can only remain in power through election; hence, the MILF organized a political party implying that the CAB is an agreement with all the Moros, not the MILF alone. So is Bangsamoro.

There are more issues, among them legal and fiscal matters. These are non-issues if the majority in the Congress could rise above their anti-Moro biases, prejudices, etc. and view the BBL legal, fiscal and other issues to see the historical injustices the Moros have suffered for more than a century; their real needs to co-exist with dignity with the majority; and, their new-found determination to help themselves. So the more will they be non-issues if the national media can do the same.

We agree with The Daily Tribune editorial. The goal of the Mindanao peace process is peace. But the goal is being blurred by the mutual biases, prejudices, etc. of the Christian majority and the Moro-IPs minority.

Together with the Mindanao peace advocates – the churches, civil societies and various Moro organizations – the national media are a vital instrument in banishing these biases, prejudices, etc. Unfortunately, the national media are biased, too.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to