Bishops want a Bangsamoro Basic Law “rooted in social justice and promotes social justice”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 July) – The country’s Catholic bishops adopted during its recent plenary assembly the Mindanao Catholic Bishops’ statement on the peace process and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that they want and do not want.

“We do not intend to endorse or not to endorse any draft BBL being discussed by the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives. But we intend to envision a BBL that is based on and guided by social moral principles,” the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in its statement dated July 11, “Striving for a Just Peace, the Moral Road.”

The CBCP noted that Christianity and Islam are religions of peace; that the vast majority of Muslim, Christian, and Indigenous People communities in Mindanao aspire for peace; and that all-out war is not the answer to the Mindanao situation.

The Bishops said the BBL they envision on the basis of social moral principles of social justice, harmony and peace “goes beyond the proposals now being discussed in our legislature.”

Mindanao has 27 provinces and 33 cities. The proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had agreed upon in 2012 to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by 2016, comprises five provinces and four cities with a predominantly Muslim population.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has 86 ecclesiastical territories, 21 of which are in Mindanao, four of them within the proposed Bangsamoro: the Archdiocese of Cotabato, Prelature of Marawi, Vicariate of Jolo and the Prelature of Isabela in Basilan.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) aims to be the enabling law of the peace agreements – Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that would pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro.

As agreed by both parties, the proposed BBL was drafted by a 15-member GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission and was submitted to Congress in ceremonial rits held in Malacanang on September 10, 2014.

After several public hearings and consultations, the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law on May 20 approved its substitute bill, the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, or what is now HB 5811.

When Congress adjourned sine die on June 10, the House of Represenatives was still in the period of interpellation on HB 5811.

At the Senate, the Senate Committee on Local Government is also coming up with a substitute bill, before Congress resumes on July 27, with Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. , Committee chair, claiming the draft BBL in its present form and substance, would lead the country “to perdition.”

The BBL the bishops do not want

The CBCP adopted the Mindanao bishops’ statement even as three archbishops, two of them from Mindanao, are among the petitioners in a case filed before the Supreme Court asking it to declare as “unconstitutional and void” the peace agreements – FAB and CAB – signed by the GPH and MILF.

The three archbishops who are among the signatories of a petition filed by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) are Ramon Arguelles of Lipa and Romulo dela Cruz of Zamboanga, and Davao City’s Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla.

The CBCP statement listed down the BBL that they want and do not want.

Viewed from a moral angle, the CBCP said they do not want a BBL “that does not effectively address the root causes of social injustice; that “does not achieve the centuries-old Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination;” that makes the proposed Bangsamoro “less autonomous than the ARMM that it is meant to replace.”

The CBCP said they do not also want a BBL “that discriminates by not effectively protecting and promoting the rights of minorities, indigenous or not;” or a BBL “that will foster ethnic, religious, political, and economic discrimination.”

The BBL the bishops want

The CBCP said they want a BBL that is “rooted in social justice and promotes social justice;” that “effectively addresses the injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro as well as the injustices suffered by indigenous peoples and various religious minorities within the proposed Bangsamoro area;” that “concretely achieves the self-determination of the Bangsamoro in an identified area that remains part and parcel of the territorial integrity and under the national sovereignty of the Philippine Republic.”

They also want a BBL that “promotes harmonious relationships between peoples of various ethnic groups and of different faiths;” that “effectively protects universal human rights, particularly the rights of IPs already enshrined in law, and the rights of Christian minorities who fear harassment and further marginalization.”

The Bishops want a BBL that “responds concretely to the concerns, hopes and aspirations of all stakeholders, of various Bangsamoro groups, and of non-Moro citizens within the new Bangsamoro autonomous region;” a BBL whose provisions are “clearly Constitutional, without betraying the intent and spirit of peace agreements.”

“That is the BBL we envision on the basis of social moral principles of social justice, harmony and peace. It is a vision that goes beyond the proposals now being discussed in our legislature,” the Bishops said.

The Bishops also noted that the suggestion of many experts, “we believe, is wise — that such issues be left to the Supreme Court for judicial review. If left out through substantive revisions, the Supreme Court can no longer re-insert them.”

The Bishops’ statement noted that since colonial times, Muslim leaders had expressed three major grievances: “the reduction of their ancestral territory, the erosion of their cultural identity, and the loss of self-determination in the development of their communities;” that at the basis of this aspiration to self-determination in an autonomous region “is the moral principle of social justice.”

Social justice, it said, “implies the other moral principles of just peace and inter-religious harmony” which is “the moral framework from which we view the peace process and the draft BBL.”

Biases and Prejudices

The CBCP said the social climate “demands moral consideration,” citing mutual biases and prejudices and mutual charges of injustice.

“For the Christian disciple, the fundamental wake-up call to conscience would be: Would Jesus approve our biases and prejudices that create unpeace?” the Bishops asked.

“It is this climate of mistrust that the horrible human tragedy at Mamasapano, Maguindanao, has resurrected. It has placed the peace process and the proposed BBL in limbo. But we believe that the Mamasapano disaster must not be equated with the BBL,” the Bishops added.

In his privilege speech delivered at the Plenary Assembly on July 12, Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo, CBCP President from 1999 to 2003, spoke of how the Mamasapano tragedy “sadly exposed the deeply entrenched biases and prejudices of Christians” and that it even sadder to learn that most of those who disapprove the BBL but know little or almost none about it are Catholics.”

He challenged his fellow bishops “to study this phenomenon seriously and come up with programs of integral faith formation that would go beyond orthodoxy and into orthopraxis – from doctrine to life.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)