COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/27 March) – Peace advocacy groups here lauded President Aquino for his determination to push the Bangsamoro peace process as avowed in his address to commemorate the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on March 27 last year the CAB which eventually led to the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would govern the future Bangsamoro government.
Under the roadmap of both parties, a plebiscite shall be held once Congress passes the law, to determine which areas would comprise the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which would serve during the transition from ARMM to Bangsamoro is supposed to be set up after the plebiscite, with ARMM deemed abolished.
Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, GPH peace panel chair, signed on behalf of the government while Mohaqher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, signed on behalf of the MILF with the Malaysian facilitator in ceremonies held in Malacanang grounds, witnessed by President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak. The agreement signaled the end of the 17-year negotiations for a political settlement.
To commemorate the historic signing, peace advocates conducted a peace caravan which commenced with a Friday noon prayer at the Grand Mosque in Cotabato City and ended at the Tantawan Park along Sinsuat Avenue, this city.
“We laud and congratulate President Aquino for his firm stance amid efforts to destroy the Mindanao peace process,” said Bobby Benito, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC).
“We can say that the Mindanao peace process has hurdled a storm with the unfortunate Mamasapano encounter,” he said. “Despite the incident, the peace process is very much alive.”
Benito and other peace advocates remain hopeful the BBL will survive the obstacles in Congress and eventually become a law.
In Malacanang, President Aquino delivered a 12-minute statement to mark the first anniversary of the agreement and recalled that during his speech at the signing a year earlier at the Malacanang Gardens, he said: “If we sustain the momentum for peace, by 2016, the MILF will have shed its identity as a military force, and transformed itself into a political entity, casting its stake in democracy by vying for seats in the Bangsamoro elections. The Bangsamoro shall form a perimeter of vigilance against the spread of extremism… From this shared security, we shall enhance the era of prosperity that is dawning upon our region, and harness its energies towards creating a regime of opportunity and inclusivity where no one is left behind.”
“Was it not a great honor to have achieved this agreement, and was it not gratifying to proudly tell the whole world that we Filipinos—though scattered among many islands, though possessing different beliefs—have a shared aspiration for peace? That we can put aside our differences, and focus on what binds us as a nation?” Aquino asked Friday, adding, it saddens him that one year later, “we have seemingly forgotten the hope that we felt back then. Instead, we have replaced it with distrust, unwarranted suspicion, and anger.”
Deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) were suspended following the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano Tragedy in which 66 persons – 44 from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF), 17 from the MILF (initially reported at 18 but only 17 names were listed in the report of the MILF’s Special Investigative Commission (SIC), and five civilians – were killed.
Questions on alleged unconstitutionality had also surfaced but Aquino said that if the proposed bill is lacking, “it can be addressed by pushing through with the debates on it. With the continuation of hearings about the BBL in Congress, each one is given an opportunity to understand the proposed bill. We believe: An initiative that arose out of good intentions can be fixed by those who likewise have good intentions towards their fellowmen.”
He said he is “fully aware that the events in Mindanao, together with the incident in Mamasapano, have sowed doubt in the minds of our countrymen.” To address this, he announced he was inviting “citizen leaders known for their wisdom and integrity to stand as independent convenors.”
Friends of Peace
He named Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila; former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Howard Dee, and Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, as the leaders he invited. All are Manila-based.
“They will gather other responsible and respected leaders to spearhead a National Peace Summit to deliberate on and discuss the BBL. They will dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner that will not incite anger and hopelessness. This way, the BBL can be improved. They will write a report that will be made public, so that everyone may be informed, and so that more of our countrymen may understand the matter. In this manner, we will be able to advance a reasonable decision as regards the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
Unknown to the President, the Mindanao-based Friends of Peace, led by Mindanao’s Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, has invited representatives of peace networks to a meeting on April 6 to among others, discuss the present crisis in the peace process, including the problems and challenges facing the Bangsamoro Basic Law and propose solutions to address these.
The Senate Committee on Local Government which is deliberating on the BBL is set to meet on April 13 while the Ad Hoc Committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law is meeting on April 27 to 30, eyeing May 11 or 12 as the signing of the Committee report. Congress resumes session on May 4 and will go on sine die adjournment on June 11.
The House of Representatives had earlier set April 7 to 13 as the date of the resumption of the AHCBBL’s committee deliberations on the BBL but a later announcement said the House’s probe on the Mamasapano Tragedy will resume on April 7 and 8.
No to war
Aquino also dismissed calls for an all-out war against the MILF.
“What gain do you see from waging war? Now that we are moving forward as a nation and are on the cusp of success, do they really think that we should advance violence, only to bring us back to the path of hardship?” he asked.
He said previous administrations since the 1970s had used military action but it only resulted to “hundreds of thousands of casualties, ruined livelihoods, and a status quo of suffering in Mindanao.”
“Is it not clear that their approach was wrong? What were the results? Did the conflict end? Didn’t such an approach lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos? There were reports that, during the time of Mr. Marcos, blackouts were purposefully done to conceal the arrival of body bags, so that no one could see the large number of casualties,” he said.
Aquino said the country is facing a crossroads. “We take pains to forge peace today, or we count body bags tomorrow. To those who have called for all-out war as the solution, do you think we’ll be able to talk peace after the shooting has started, when the wounds, and the failure of the talks, would be raw?”
“Violence cannot resolve violence; anger can never come to an end, if it is also met with anger. Only compassion can put an end to violence; only love can extinguish anger. Is it too much to ask that Filipinos show compassion and love to their fellow Filipinos? No one can deny that, if we attain peace, the standard of living in the Bangsamoro will rise. And when one region rises, so too does the entire country. Indeed: peace is the only path to our aspirations of inclusive growth,” he said. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)