PEACETALK: Should peace really be contingent on the BBL?

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews / 17 July) — All Filipinos want peace. Let us be clear with this.

We are all aware of how the longstanding armed conflict in Muslim Mindanao has brought immeasurable grief to Filipino Muslims and Lumads alike.

What is more painful about this tragedy is that the overwhelming majority of our compatriots in that region share no appetite for combat at all. For this precise reason, the peace-building effort deserves the nation’s complete and fervent support.

And the foremost requirement for peace in Muslim Mindanao should be the official government recognition of accountability for the large-scale and indiscriminate immigration of Filipinos from Luzon and the Visayas to Mindanao.

There should no longer be any doubt that the marginalization of Filipino Muslims and Lumads in their own traditional lands was a direct result of this state action. And this fact must now be properly set in stone. Hence, as head of state, President Rodrigo Duterte can convey this official acknowledgment in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).

I must note that the act of a government to recognize a profound shortcoming is not without precedent. Successive Prime Ministers of Australia have in fact done this for different reasons within the last decade.

On February 13, 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd conveyed during a special session of the Australian Parliament an apology to Aboriginal Australians for discriminatory acts perpetuated against them by past governments. Another former prime minister, Julia Gillard, issued a formal apology last March 21, 2013 to the victims of forced adoptions implemented by the government in the 1950s.

Since these apologies were made, I believe the vast majority of the Australian public have become more conscious of their responsibility to repair the damage caused by these unjust government acts. In fact, I have personally heard Aboriginal Australian elders laud Rudd’s official recognition of the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples of Australia as a good start to the reconciliation movement.

But I claim no historical parallelism here. Rather I would simply like to highlight the optimism that a similar state action could also enhance the healing process in Mindanao.

Moreover, concomitant to this official recognition, the President must also unequivocally express in his inaugural SONA that the work of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission will proceed completely unhindered. This commitment must be made because addressing the historical injustices and human rights violations committed against Muslim and Lumad communities is integral to establishing peace in the region.

There should be no sacred cows or cover-ups. And as I have written elsewhere, reparation and restoration for the communities ravaged by the fighting should not simply be treated as an ideal to aspire for. As an indispensable condition for lasting peace, this pursuit for justice must translate to tangible remedial actions at the grassroots level.

Lastly, the demands of sustainable peace also behooves the President to heed the suggestion of the eminent academic from Ateneo de Davao University, Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan, that education must play a big role in explaining the real story of the Mindanao crisis.

I remember Professor Muss narrating a story about a trip to Iloilo where high school teachers actually still believe the propaganda version of Muslim history in Mindanao. Therefore, an essential component of the official recognition proposed here must be a clear directive from the President in the SONA to all state educational institutions to include the real history of Muslim Mindanao in its curriculum.

Peace in Muslim Mindanao is paramount. Justice for Filipino Muslims and Lumads is equally paramount as well. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that Filipino youths from Batanes to Jolo form a clearer and more accurate comprehension of the crisis in Muslim Mindanao. After all, they will be the keepers of the peace we are all working for.

This is not to say that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) can now be set aside. Indeed, I truly believe that the BBL is immensely so important that its enactment must not be limited by self-serving political interests and an unrealistic deadline.

If the BBL, or any other regional autonomy statute for that matter, is to be a truly organic piece of legislation, then it must emanate from the very people who will be responsible for making it work and as determined by their own nuances and needs. The outcome in this regard may prove to be more beneficial to the people of the autonomous region.

For instance, lawmakers from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) can revisit Sections 1-3 of Article V of the BBL on the creation of the category of Concurrent Powers because this directly contravenes Article X of the Constitution.

The division of powers allowed by Article X pertains only to the exclusive powers of the regional government, the scope of which is articulated in Section 20. And to the residual powers of the national government under Section 17 which states that all powers, functions, and responsibilities not granted by this Constitution or by law to the autonomous regions shall be vested in the national government. Simply put, the Constitution does not sanction the sharing of powers by the national and regional governments.

Curiously, many of the state functions listed under the classification Concurrent Powers should actually be under the Excusive Powers of the contemplated Bangsamoro regional government.

Therefore, ARMM legislators should consider transferring more powers to the projected regional government as this would be more aligned with Article X, particularly Section 20(9) which empowers the latter to assume jurisdiction over such “other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.”

In sum, peace in Muslim Mindanao and genuine and meaningful autonomy for Filipinos in this region are two deeply connected yet plainly distinct cardinal pursuits. Needless to say, we must all ensure both goals are achieved sooner rather than later. But hopefully, I have shown here that both undertakings can be pursued simultaneously but separately. Meaning, the chase for one need not be contingent on the drive for the other.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.”)