Moro, Christian leaders commit to work for ratification of Bangsamoro law

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 September) — Moro and Christian religious leaders and leaders of Moro revolutionary fronts who gathered here for a historic peace dialogue from Thursday morning to Friday noon, signed a manifesto committing not only to work for the ratification of RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao but also to conduct “joint initiatives between and among ourselves to further safeguard the gains of the peace process.”

The two-page manifesto – “Blessed are the Peace Makers” (A Manifesto of the Bangsamoro and Christian Leaders) – made a six-point call, the first of which is to  make “inclusive peace and progress in the future Bangsamoro government .. an imperative undertaking so that no sector and community will be left out of the process.”

Christian and Muslim religious leaders have been meeting regularly since Mindanao’s  Bishops Ulama Conference was organized in November 1996  following the September 2, 1996 signing of the Final Peace Agreement between government and the  Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

But this week’s peace dialogue at the Waterfront Insular Hotel was historic in that it was the first time Christian and Muslim religious leaders sat down with revolutionary leaders from both the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on March 27, 2014. The MNLF faction represented in the dialogue had earlier nominated three members to the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsamoro law.

Signatories to the manifesto are Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Hatimil Hassan representing MNLF chair Yusoph Jikiri, Rev. Danilo Bustamane, chair of theEpiscopal Diocese of Southern Philippines (EDSP) Bishop-in-Charge; Bishop Noel Pantoja, National Director, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches; Bishop Edwin dela Pena of the Prelature of St. Mary of Marawi; Edgardo Ramirez, Deputy Governor for Christians of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Winston Aylmer Camarinas, head of the United Nations Development Programme in Cotabato City.

A peace dialogue that started morning of April 27, 2018 and ended noon the next day led to the signing of a peace manifesto among Moro and Christian religious leaders as well as leaders of the Moro revolutionary fronts. Among the signatories are (L to R) Hatimil Hassan representing Yusoph Jikiri, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front; Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; Bishop Noel Pantoja, national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and Mindanao’s lone Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

The manifesto also called on everyone to be proactive in instituting programs and activities to address violent extremism as it is “definitely not the option but will simply reawaken the deep-seated biases and prejudices of the people.”

It also urged peace stakeholders, especially the bishops, ulama, priests, pastors and religious sisters within the proposed Bangsamoro area to “proactively share their time and resources in order to realize and sustain the gains of the peace process, to sustain peace education and more platforms for dialogues especially at the grassroots level” and also called for the institutionalization of “political dialogue and engagement between Christian and Bangsamoro leaders and among religious leaders for purposes of peace and unity.”

The manifesto’s fifth call is to “commit and work for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law for Peace and Progress.”

It also urged the Philippine government to translate into concrete actions their responsibility as a party to the Peace Agreements by “issuing a policy directive to the local government units within the Bangsamoro areas to take the lead in the information dissemination” on RA 11054.

January 21, 2019 plebiscite

Voters in the proposed core territory will troop to the polls on January 21, 2019 to ratify the law. The core territory is composed of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (ARMM) five provinces and two cities — Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan; the cities of Cotabato and Isabela; the six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato that voted yes for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite for an expanded ARMM; and all other contiguous areas where a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least ten percent (10%) of the registered voters in the area seeks for their inclusion at least two months prior to the plebiscite.

In the case of Lanao del Norte’s six towns and North Cotabato’s 39 barangays, their mother units — the province of Lanao del Norte and the six towns where the 39 barangays belong — will also vote in the plebiscite as the law provides that the consent of the mother units is needed for them to be part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) also known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Christians belonging to different denominations and Indigenous Peoples are a minority in the proposed core territory of the BARMM.

Bishop Pantoja cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) that there are 3.45 million Muslims and around 320,000 Christians of various denominations in the ARMM.

Pantoja said these figures are “important and necessary so that when we help in the educational process (on what the Bangsamoro law is), we need to tell Christians what are the benefits to them” and address their anxieties and fears.

The manifesto said they recognize that “a greater responsibility” has been put on their shoulders after the passage of the law “to implement it, to make it inclusive and participatory.”

The Christians for Peace, described as “Christians Engaging for Inclusive Bangsamoro Peace Process” and composed of the Social Action for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, Prelatures of St. Mary in Marawi City and Isabela de Basilan; the Social Action Ministry of the ECSP, the UNDP, the ARMM through the Office of the Deputy Governor for Christians, Office of the mayor of North Upi, Radio Mindanao Network and Metro Cotabato Suburbs and Ministers Fellowship, Inc. presented during the peace dialogue what they had earlier crafted: a 17-Point Christian Settlers’ Peace and Development Agenda “for a meaningful participation of the Christian minority” to the Bangsamoro “as well as to affirm and strengthen positive factors and processes that are already in place.”

The manifesto also expressed “our deep concern that lawless elements are undermining our peace overtures based on their extreme beliefs” and affirmed

“with deeper appreciation” that the peace agreements and their dividends gained after years of negotiations “should be understood very well in the midst of high expectations of the stakeholders in terms of its concrete delivery to the community level, within and outside the proposed Bangsamoro areas.”

In his message on Thursday morning, Cardinal Quevedo said it was very good to hear during a radio interview, MILF chair Murad, the MILF’s nominee for Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority that will govern the Bangsamoro during the transition period from 2019 to 2022, that they “cannot afford to fail.”

“They cannot afford to fail because if the expectations of the whole Bangsamoro – Christians in general — about whether or not the new governance of the new Bangsamoro territory will be successful in changing the political culture” and introducing a “new political culture for the common good and not for clan or dynastic interests.”

Murad said they have “endured so much sacrifices, not only us who struggled, who fought the government since the early 1970s but also those who were in the (conflict-) affected areas. So now we are happy that at least .. we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We hope that this light will really become bright and true and really light us .. in the future.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)