In the wake (pun intended as funeral vigil, as there was understandable mourning or “deep disappointment and grave dismay” by those who worked and prayed hard for its passage) of the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the outgoing 16th Congress under the outgoing Aquino administration, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) through their Peace Panels in a Joint Statement on 11 February 2016 in Kuala Lumpur “reaffirmed their commitment to stay the course of peace.”   The words “to stay the course” comes from the opening statement of GPH Panel Chair Prof. Miriam Coronel Ferrer on 10 February 2016 at the two-day Special Meeting shortly after the said BBL non-passage had come to pass by early February 2016.  MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal’s own opening statement spoke similarly in the terms of being guided by the principle of “As is, where is,” which was the very title of his statement.     


To “stay the course, as is, where is” as the way forward into the next administration does not appear to us to be fully correct.  It is correct with regards to upholding the primacy of the peace process and preserving its gains, including its existing elaborate infrastructure, painstakingly achieved over a good number of years of difficult peace negotiations, notwithstanding several major armed hostilities since the general ceasefire of 1997.  The Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) of this peace process which has a continuing strong enough third party role, has done well in its Third Public Report of 26 February 2016 in summing up the gains since 2015 which can be built on, despite the setbacks from the Mamasapano Incident of January 2015 and the BBL non-passage.  Among these gains are at least the following ten:  

 --  the continued proven efficacy of the ceasefire mechanisms despite the Mamasapano Incident, including in dealing with terrorist groups and elements; 

--  the ventilation by a wide range of stakeholders and concerned sectors of their issues vis-à-vis the BBL that cover discursive ground and can guide future deliberations;   

--  the first, ceremonial, stage of decommissioning of MILF weapons and forces; 

--  other aspects of normalization like preparing support for former combatants and their communities; 

--  disposition of previously acknowledged MILF camps;

--  socio-economic and other confidence-building measures notably through the Sajahatra Bangsamoro program; 

--  the MILF’s formation of a political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP);

--  the activation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)-facilitated Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) and other “unification and reconciliation” initiatives between the MILF and rival factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF);

--  the determined galvanizing of both domestic and international support for the peace process and the BBL itself notably through the Citizens’ Peace Council and a number of civil society peace initiatives; and      

             --  the submission of the report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) with its insights and recommendations on important aspects of the peace process not adequately covered by the CAB and the BBL, such as particularly on historical memory, land dispossession, human rights violations, and healing and reconciliation.


Still, for the GPH/the Aquino administration/the Liberal Party (LP) and the MILF, the “means forward” to “stay the course, as is, where is” mainly means “the early passage of this legislation (the BBL) in the next Administration and Congress… for implementation of significant aspects of the [2014]  CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro)… believing that it continues to provide a viable roadmap and comprehensive approach towards resolving armed conflict in Mindanao.”  In other words, this is still the Plan A of the GPH/Aquino administration/LP and the MILF as regards the all-important political-governance component of a comprehensive peace settlement/solution of what has been called the Bangsamoro problem.  For the MILF/Iqbal, it must be “passage of [a] CAB-compliant BBL whoever will be the next President… which is a unilateral obligation of government.”   This sounds almost like business as usual, that it's only a matter of a few more months wait for the next Congress to go with the BBL againThis is not really a Plan B – which incidentally the TPMT had recommended but without the specifics “to build a path forward… so that the next administration can hit the ground running, and the unavoidable hiatus while the new administration takes stock can be minimized.”


Only a Roxas/LP administration appears likely to “hit the ground running” with what the MILF/Iqbal refers to as “the most immediate step is either the BBL will be refiled or a new basic law, faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB, will be crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which will most likely have new faces as members.  This is the only way forward.”  We beg to disagree on this, even if it comes to a Roxas administration.  That “the new (Roxas or non-Roxas) administration takes stock” of the overall situation of the Mindanao peace process  is more important than for it to “hit the ground running” on the BBL. For us, a real Plan B entails taking stock of the reasons, factors and lessons for the BBL non-passage and then going back to the drawing board, as it were, for a re-drafting or re-designing that ideally still makes use of the CAB and the proposed BBL, among other references, without entirely junking or adopting the same, and that is most importantly the product of a broader consensus and multi-stakeholder ownership.  Otherwise, whatever re-filed BBL will likely encounter in the new administration and the 17th Congress the same kind of problems that led to its non-passage under the Aquino administration and the 16th Congress, as if the lessons were not learned.


Undoubtedly, it was the strong anti-Moro public sentiment fallout from the Mamasapano Incident that derailed the BBL in the 16th Congress, despite the best efforts of the Aquino administration.  Politically reflecting that majoritarian sentiment and at a time when the 2016 national elections were on the horizon, Congressional deliberations on the BBL were suspended and delayed by the various investigations on the Mamasapano Incident and, when they resumed, the BBL was subjected to the most intense Congressional scrutiny, especially all the more on its constitutionality, until Congress just run out of time, but almost deliberately, to pass even the watered-down Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).  As for the latter,  according to the TPMT, “there would appear to be a significant number of departures from what had been agreed in the CAB” – something that the MILF had said would be unacceptable. 


In this and several other senses (like notably departures from the Lumad-invoked Indigenous Peoples Right Act of 1997), it may be said, as a Mindanao pundit Antonio J. Montalvan II has said, that the “BBL’s non-enactment [is] a blessing in disguise.”  Stated otherwise by many, including peace and Moro advocates, no BBL is better than a bad BBL.  Better to go for it or whatever new organic measure at another, less politically-charged, more issue-enlightened, time – in current parlance, sa tamang panahon (at the right time).  Bangsamoro justice delayed is Bangsamoro justice denied.  But the point is to get it right about Bangsamoro justice at our current conjuncture.  For the TPMT, it should “be sufficient to give the autonomous region a real and substantial autonomy, to be an improvement on the existing ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), to fulfil the ambitions set out in the 1987 Constitution, and to meet the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.”


But before going to the substance of the autonomy, the problem with the CAB, and the proposed BBL based on or compliant with it, is that these instruments, and in fact also with the peace process itself from which these instruments arose, is the significant perception (even in some MILF circles, more so outside), especially post-Mamasapano, that these instruments and process are “merely for the benefit of the MILF as the favored group,” including the Maguindanaon ethnic group which is its main leadership and membership base, “creating the impression that other non-MILF groups are ignored.”  In other words, the CAB and the proposed CAB-compliant BBL clearly do not have the necessary multi-stakeholdership and ownership for political viability and sustainability, even among the Bangsamoro people, notably the Tausug ethnic group of the Sulu archipelago of Southwestern Mindanao, and more so among the non-Bangsamoro sectors in the rest of Mindanao and for that matter the Philippines.  


Thus, the time has already come for a more inclusive multi-stakeholdership process that supersedes as well as builds on the bilateral GPH-MILF peace process, and for a resulting instrument that does justice to the valid self-governance aspirations of the Bangsamoro people in the context of a tri-people Mindanao.  Stated otherwise, the existing conventional, separate and successive bilateral negotiations and processes between the Philippine government and the two major Moro liberation fronts no longer suffice to deal with the fragmented nature of the conflict, which instead now calls for a negotiating roundtable at which all key stakeholders, armed and unarmed, represent themselves.


The future course of Bangsamoro self-governance can no longer be “a matter for [just] the two Parties [GPH and MILF] to discuss once the new Administration is in place.” The MILF has done its part as the Bangsamoro vanguard that has in recent years, in close peace partnership with the GPH, delivered the hard-earned CAB and the proposed BBL which can both be built on.  The MILF can further show its linchpin and shepherding role in the peace process by an act of statesmanship that sacrifices its privileged position in bilateral negotiations in favor of a yet to be agreed,  more inclusive, negotiating roundtable that brings in other key stakeholders with their own inputs.  In this way, it can prove its Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim’s official statement that “it did not and does not claim to be the sole owner of the basic law” by not waiting, as it wants, for “the [preeminent] role of the MILF [to] end [only] after the transition period,” with it at the helm of the transition.        


The difficult and potentially time-consuming but necessary and ultimately getting-it-right process towards a negotiating roundtable has to start with the fragmented Bangsamoro people itself, including the MILF and its fraternal (or maternal) Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which already has its earlier peace agreements with the Philippine government.  These include the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement that respectively have their 40th and 20th anniversaries this year – and are thus bound to be called attention to by the MNLF, not to mention the influential OIC.  It is clear that Bangsamoro unity, with MILF-MNLF unity as the litmus test, should already be treated as a goal itself of the peace process and no less than part of solving the Bangsamoro problem.  To quote sociology professor and newspaper columnist Randolf  S. David on this again:  “It is difficult to imagine an experiment in Islamic self-determination succeeding against a background of Moro disunity… Self-determination requires that the Bangsamoro people imagine themselves as one nation.”  


One Australia-based Filipino scholar Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, in his Ateneo de Davao University-published work Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective (2013), has more recently strongly questioned on historical grounds the nation-ness of the Bangsamoro (and for that matter of the Cordillera people) and consequently this very basis for regional autonomy.  And that due to “the insurmountable and intense tribal rivalry among the Muslims,” he argues that the “appropriate structure that would address their demands for self-determination” is the decentralization under the Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991 but he overlooks or ignores its structural context which is the overarching and countervailing highly-centralized unitary system of government under the 1987 Constitution.  In addition,  the latter, particularly its secularist provisions on the “inviolable” separation of Church and State and on the free exercise of religious worship, according to him actually already covers or makes up for what he correctly notes as “the relegation of Islam (as a religious institution) in official discourse,” such as even in the CAB and the proposed BBL.


These are serious questions of Bangsamoro nation-ness and of Islamic self-determination that are best addressed by the coming together or not of a credible and viable assembly of representatives of all-Moro stakeholders that would show whether or not there is a Moro nation or at least the requisite community solidarity that overcomes their “innate tribal divisions and rivalries;” that would show whether or not they can govern themselves or their region, or how they would structure their self-governance, given historical, cultural and ethnic realities; and that would show to what extent is Islam, if at all, an integral part of the self-determination aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.  


At least there is already, for one, the proposal of Muslim Filipino intellectual and legal luminary Firdausi I.Y. Abbas, Ph.D. for a “Bangsa Moro Constitutional Convention… which Congress shall convoke wherein all the Moro sectors – 1. Revolutionary, 2. Political, 3. Traditional, 4. Professional, 5. Educational, 6. Women, 7. Labor/Industrial, 8. Youth, 9. Agricultural, 10. Economic/Business, 11. Indigenous Non-Muslim/Non-Christian Tribes, and 12. Religious which has two sub-sectors, (a). Muslim Moros and (b). Christian Moros, shall be guaranteed appointed representatives and together with freely elected delegates duly constitute the congregation” to draft a new constitution/fundamental law/organic act/basic law for the Bangsa Moro regional entity.  For such an all-Moro convention, should be added and ensured the proper representation of the 13 ethno-linguistic Islamized tribes based in Mindanao who are imagined to collectively constitute the Bangsamoro people. 


In terms of the substantive agenda of such an all-Moro convention, perhaps the best policy is the suspension of disbelief or conventional wisdom on Bangsamoro self-determination.  And so, as regards the autonomous region design set out in the 1987 Constitution, the matter should be thrown open to 3 R’s:  [1] reaffirmation;  [2] rejection/removal from the Article X on Local Government;  or [3] revision of the self-determination design such as along the lines of federalism.  Stated otherwise, the suspension of disbelief or conventional wisdom on Bangsamoro self-determination can range from going back down to the pre-status quo “low level” of mere decentralization for the local government units under the LGC (as Yusingco strongly advocates) to going back up to the “high level” of independence from the Philippines (as the MNLF and its breakaway MILF both once strongly advocated as the “original position,” and as the MILF-breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters now currently advocates). 


The point of the process is to get to a clear Moro multi-stakeholder and multi-ethnic consensus, if this is possible, on the self-determination aspirations of the Bangsamoro people, starting perhaps with a common understanding on the term Bangsamoro or Bangsa Moro.  Not only federalism but also even independence should be tossed to the all-Moro convention to self-determine which political option or final political status to aspire for, or even the form of a new political movement that could be the best vehicle for the chosen option.  The extent of Islamic substance of Bangsamoro self-determination should also be tossed up at the convention. And so with the question on whether and how the historical facts of the two co-existing independent sultanates (or “sulta-nation-states”) of Sulu and Maguindanao should inform the territorial structure of Bangsamoro self-governance such as into something like a confederation of two sub-regions.  Whatever all-Moro consensus of self-determination option/s to go for in the short, medium and long terms, the Bangsamoro side would have gotten its act together on this as a prerequisite for dealing with the rest of the other (equally) multi-stakeholders in Mindanao and with the Philippine polity. 


At this point, something has to be said about the “the relegation of Islam (as a religious institution) in official discourse,” as Yusingco correctly notes, but for which he leaves the redressing to the relevant “inviolable” secularist provisions of the 1987 Constitution.  But is this not part of the problem for the Bangsamoro, the Philippine imposition of secularist separation of Church and state contrary to Islam as a comprehensive system or way of life where “religion is not separate but rather integral to every aspect of life: prayer, fasting, politics, law, and society”?  Does Islam not go to the very core of Bangsamoro identity, commonality and unity?  Is there or is there no constitutional space for an Islamic, or more precisely a Moro Islamic, way of life and governance inside the Republic of the Philippines? 


Unless this legitimate Islamic aspiration is addressed or at least recognized as part of the solution of the Bangsamoro problem, there will likely continue to emerge new Bangsamoro Islamic rebel groups like already shown  by the BIFF.  Let us be clear that the primordial purpose of the Mindanao peace process is to solve the Bangsamoro problem, not to arrest the spread of “violent extremism.”  In fact, the latter is also engendered by peace agreements that are too moderate or not radical enough in terms of accommodating legitimate Islamic aspirations of the Bangsamoro people, and so they seek fulfillment of that from other Islamic liberators.  Without meaning to sound holier than thou,  the MILF seems to have unfortunately turned its back on its own Islamic raison d’etre by sacrificing or diluting the Islamic agenda so as to purposively project a moderate and even anti-radical image because of the current global Islamophobia or Islamic scare (just like the once more predominant global Red scare).  The Islamic agenda (just like the ancestral domain agenda) of the peace process should be addressed head on and no longer evaded.


But what really is/are the Islamic agenda or aspirations of the Bangsamoro people?  This is part of what has to be ascertained by a well-represented all-Moro convention as truly “suitable and acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.”  Speaking of which, the ascertainment of the wishes, if not will, of the Bangsamoro people on the substance of their autonomy (or whatever structure of self-determination) can also be done through a credible consultative referendum on their political options, which may be better if non-binding initially so as to include options outside the present constitutional box like federalism and independence.  Or such a referendum can provide the basis for a consensus or a unified position, or can validate whatever political option chosen, at the proposed all-Moro convention.   Interestingly, no less than former MILF senior peace negotiator and ideologue Datu Michael O. Mastura has made his own recent call for a non-binding referendum “to assert a Mindanao agenda for the Bangsamoro in the administration of a President elected in May 2016.”  But more interestingly, he relatedly and colorfully says “Forget about the BBL, because it is passé; it’s water under the bridge; it’s been archived and is literally (no worthier than a paper) flushed into the toilet.


A non-binding referendum on Bangsamoro political options is not exactly “wishful thinking” as one longtime Mindanao peace advocate friend has said.  The late MILF founding chairman and ideologue Salamat Hashim once described the referendum mechanism as a preferred “peaceful, civilized, diplomatic and democratic means of solving the Mindanao conflict.”  But it will likely take some more years (decades?) for the Filipino body politic to develop the political culture and maturity to be able to peacefully and civilly allow the Bangsamoro people to undertake the kind of credible democratic exercise like the Scotland, Quebec and Darfur (in western Sudan) binding referendums of recent years – none of which resulted in independence (yet) though that was on the table.  As it is, however, the current ARMM Organic Act, R.A. No. 9054, in its Art. III, Sec. 14 on “Rights to Initiatives, Consultations, Referenda and Plebiscite,” provides for “the rights of the people of the autonomous region… to call for a referendum on important issues affecting their lives…”  It may be better to rely on the ARMM regional government and its Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) rather than the national government and Congress for the necessary legislation for a non-binding referendum on Bangsamoro political options.  


While understandably, within peace process circles, there is much hope (if not also political alignment or action) for a peace-friendly next President, the same hope should also be held for the next ARMM regional governor and RLA to be simultaneously elected in the May 9, 2016 national elections -- to which the ARMM elections are now synchronized, as a result of the 2011 Supreme Court (SC) decision in Kida vs. Senate (659 SCRA 270), with very significant pronouncements (for better or for worse) on the powers of the ARMM.  A peace-friendly ARMM regional government can also play a key role as a logical or natural convenor of the proposed all-Moro convention, especially if this is to be brought about by ARMM legislation.  For all intents and purposes, the three-year term of the newly-elected 2016 ARMM regional government, especially under a peace-friendly regional governor, till 2019 would likely mark a new kind of transition till we get to the more solidly self-determined Bangsamoro political option through a process that we envision to include the proposed all-Moro convention and non-binding referendum within that transition period.  In the meantime, the most should be made of the existing ARMM regional government, particularly for a transitional tactical engagement in the already ongoing reform of the ARMM, even if already pronounced to be a “failed experiment.”  The MILF for its part should rethink its dogmatic aversion to such a tactical engagement if only because this can still bring some transitional benefits, such as valuable hands-on autonomous governance experience and capacity-building, that would be useful for the eventual more solidly self-determined Bangsamoro political option that finally should replace the ARMM.


As for the best legislative tack in the next Congress, GPH Panel Chair Ferrer, for her part and to her credit, has expressed a more open position than that of MILF Panel Chair Iqbal’s “as is, where is” immediate refiling and early passage of a CAB-compliant BBL as “a unilateral obligation of government.”  Ferrer more critically asks:  “Would it simply entail a refiling of a BBB (Bangsamoro Basic Bill)?  Which version?  Are the prospects rife for constitutional change?  What to expect?  Who would be the champions for peace and the Bangsamoro?”  The thing is that both the CAB and the GPH-MILF (after the BTC) proposed BBL were crafted consciously “within the flexibilities of the Constitution,” especially on the part, as expected, of the GPH.  At least two things might be said about this.  Firstly, it shows the “inside the box” limitations in the peace negotiations for the CAB and the proposed BBL, contrary to the notion of “keeping all our options open” on Bangsamoro self-determination, especially on the part of the Bangsamoro side. 


This conservative “inside the box” approach is unfortunate because even the SC decision in the case of  Province of North Cotabato vs. GRP Peace Panel (568 SCRA 402) declaring the aborted 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) as unconstitutional nevertheless indicated that “… If the President is to be expected to find means for bringing this conflict to an end and to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao, then she must be given the leeway to explore, in the course of peace negotiations, solutions that may require changes to the Constitution for their implementation….”  Stated otherwise, to solve the Bangsamoro problem, which historically pre-dated the Constitution, which mandated an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao that however turned out to be “failed experiment,” we need, and should be allowed, to think “outside the box” of that Constitution – which “outside” solution can be lower or higher than the status quo of the present constitutional solution in the form of an autonomous region.


Secondly, whether the consummated CAB (which is the basis for the still unconsummated BBL) is indeed “within the flexibilities of the Constitution,” as it was consciously so negotiated by the parties, is not for them, even the GPH side (actually the Executive Department), and for that matter Congress, to say definitively, even as it has the presumption of constitutionality.  Only the SC can say that it is indeed so with finality.  Thus, the SC would be doing a service to the peace process by soon enough ruling on the constitutionality or otherwise of the CAB or certain key provisions thereof based on several pending petitions including notably that of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), so that all concerned are guided accordingly on needed measures.  With due respect, there is no reason to delay this ruling by waiting for the passage of the BBL or whatever implementing law.  The point is precisely to be already guided on the constitutionality or otherwise of key provisions of the CAB, so that the effort of its legislative implementation is not wasted.  In practical terms, the CAB provisions that are ruled constitutional can be the subject of legislation, while those that are ruled unconstitutional but still considered desirable to implement can be the subject of proposals for constitutional amendment.  


As it is, the BTC has neglected this secondary mandate of it to recommend proposed constitutional amendments “whenever necessary.”  The latter partly depends on a SC ruling that certain key provisions of the CAB are unconstitutional, if at all.  All these could in turn feed into whatever constitutional convention/commission or constituent assembly that is bound to emerge to address various needed constitutional reforms, not just those for better Bangsamoro self-governance.  Furthermore, there is no reason for the SC not to rule already on the constitutionality or otherwise of the consummated and partially implemented CAB, if we go by the precedent of its ruling on the unconstitutionality of the merely initialed but unsigned and aborted MOA-AD in its entirety.   At any rate, it seems that the one major continuing unlearned lesson from the MOA-AD case in the SC is the ultimate necessity of charter change, among others, to solve the Bangsamoro problem.


We have seen how constitutionality questions post-Mamasapano had bogged down the proposed BBL during the Congressional deliberations, despite the GPH Panel’s hard protestations that it is constitutional because it was consciously negotiated “within the flexibilities of the Constitution.”  Nat-dem activist Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo captured that dynamic well: “What has come to pass is that the objections based on constitutionality have been the leverage used to water down an already watered-down BBL.”  To water down or deny concessions to the Bangsamoro is the anti-Muslim bias naturaleza of the Filipino Christian majority elite and general public.  And they know that their majoritarian Constitution, which has been fashioned in their likeness, is their reliable fallback legal instrument and basis to justify their pre-inclined denial of substantial power-sharing and wealth-sharing concessions to the Bangsamoro.


Speaking of “sharing,” if the MILF says that it would settle for “shared sovereignty” as the neo-approach to sovereignty-based conflict, then one ramification of this should be “sharing” with the government the sovereign-type act of constitution-making, in this case formulating the text for amendments or new provisions to guarantee and implement their peace agreement.  This idea of constitution-making involving both the government and the MILF was already articulated some years back by Reynaldo M. Deang, Secretary General of the Citizens’ Movement for a Federal Philippines (CMFP).  We however again call attention to -- for building on -- Dr. Abbas’ proposal for a more inclusive multi-stakeholder Bangsa Moro (or all-Moro) constitutional convention or assembly to first build the aspirational consensus among and consolidate the Bangsamoro people.   


The MILF/Iqbal’s position that passing necessary peace process-based legislation (and for that matter constitutional amendments) “is a unilateral obligation of government” or Murad’s position that such constitutional processes are “entirely internal to the GPH” and that “the process and responsibility of delivering the legislative measure had already shifted to the Philippine Government after the BTC submitted it to both Houses of Congress” is not only contrary to the MILF’s own advocacy of “shared sovereignty” but also borders on negligence in the sense of leaving these important matters concerning Bangsamoro interest to the mercy of the Philippine government, even if no less than the incumbent President is a closely trusted peace partner. On hindsight, this is not enough and the MILF should learn its lesson on this, including from its over-reliance on President Aquino.  The MILF’s frustrating and bitter experience with the invalidated MOA-AD and then now with the unpassed BBL shows the difficulty and perils of negotiating with the Philippine government represented by its Executive Department but which is not necessarily on the same page with its two other co-equal Judicial Department and Legislative Department under the constitutional system of separation of powers and checks and balances. 


There has to be a better way to conduct peace negotiations than in effect negotiating successively with the Executive, then the Legislative (with two Houses) and finally the Judicial departments of government.  In the same way, that we demand or expect that the Bangsamoro side get its act together, we should also demand or expect the same of the Philippine government.  If  the fragmented nature of the conflict now calls for something like a tri-people negotiating roundtable of all key stakeholders, armed and unarmed, representing themselves, then perhaps a corresponding revival or reinvention of something like the Judicial Executive Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (JELACC) under the previous Arroyo administration is also called for. But considering the ingrained dynamics of the constitutional tri-department system, one wonders whether there ought to be a constitutional amendment to rationalize or consolidate government engagement in peace processes (with the same kind of government unified direction required for waging war) as distinguished and aside from constitutional amendments for Bangsamoro self-determination.  


After the Bangsamoro side gets its act together such as through an all-Moro convention and non-binding referendum, then it can deal better with the rest of the other (equally) multi-stakeholders in Mindanao and with the Philippine polity, say through an all-Tri-People consultative convention that is mainly Mindanao-based but also with appropriate national government representation (through the tri-department JELACC?).    This is a decidedly longer road to peace but one paved on firmer ground.  At the same time, while the necessary Bangsamoro unity process and the multi-stakeholder consensus-building on a “suitable and acceptable” system of Bangsamoro self-governance takes its due course, there would also be more time to more effectively address the latent deep-seated anti-Muslim or anti-Moro bias among the Filipino Christian majority public and in Congress, resurfaced with a vengeance by the Mamasapano Incident, that ultimately derailed the BBL.


Despite that setback, we mentioned early on that among the recent gains of the peace process post-Mamasapano was the TJRC Report with its insights and recommendations on important aspects of the peace process not adequately covered by the CAB and the BBL, such as particularly on historical memory, land dispossession, human rights violations, and healing and reconciliation. The TJRC Report digs out the root cause of the Bangsamoro problem to be the forging of a monolithic Filipino identity and Philippine state.  This has both its structural and cultural dimensions.  The structural dimension like the highly-centralized unitary system of government under the Philippine Constitution was/is supposed to be addressed in the vertical peace negotiations between the GPH and the two Moro liberation fronts.  But the cultural dimension of the clash between Filipino nationalism and Moro nationalism needs a more horizontal peace-to-people peace process, especially among the tri-people communities in Mindanao.


This entails the raising of a new consciousness based on a more-informed rewriting and relearning of the inter-related but distinct Philippine and Bangsamoro histories (note:  the need for new K-12 textbooks is an excellent opportunity for this which must be seized).  This would bring out clearly enough the historical injustice of the marginalization and minoritization of the Bangsamoro and Lumad peoples in their own original homeland of Mindanao due to systematic land dispossession under the resettlement policy first of the U.S. colonial government and then of the successor independent Philippine republic.  Yusingco rightly considers the colonial and national mismanagement of this resettlement policy as the direct cause of the continuing Mindanao armed conflict. He consequently suggests that the Philippine state’s acknowledgement of responsibility for this “must be the foundational act for the peace and development plan for Mindanao.” 


It bears noting that, as early as 2000, a MILF negotiating position paper for the peace talks recommended a political solution that included, among others, “the pronouncement of a public apology by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines to the Bangsamoro people for the crimes and harm caused by their subjugation, oppression and exploitation.”  Such an apology and taking of responsibility, even if initially only symbolic and without yet the implementing measures of specific redress, would already go a long way in paving the road for transitional justice, and in dealing well with the past, towards healing and reconciliation.  It would be cathartic for the Bangsamoro people as well as an eye-opening educational opportunity for the Filipino people, and thus help more effectively address their anti-Moro bias.


It is good that the Executive Secretary has instructed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to endorse the TJRC Report to the relevant agencies for their review, assessment and implementation.  Many of its good recommendations can actually be acted on already, including by concerned civil society actors, without waiting for the uncertain creation of its recommended National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB).  MILF Peace Panel member Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga said “the report does not replace the BBL.”  That may be so, but the TJRC Report can contribute better to a real Plan B post-BBL non-passage.  The CAB and a CAB-compliant BBL cannot be, as it seems to be with the MILF, the end-all and be-all of Bangsamoro self-determination. The BBL can and should be replaced by better legislative and constitutional measures after a more inclusive and more solid process of consensus-building on Bangsamoro political options.  But there is no substitute for the people-to-people peace processes of healing and reconciliation based on a recognition of the historical injustices and legitimate grievances that are at the heart of this conflict.   Longer road, yes, but stronger peace.        




SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. has been a long-time Bicolano human rights and IHL lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar;  peace advocate, researcher and writer esp. for and on the Mindanao peace process, with several books on this, inc. The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process (UP Press, 2001; with 2nd printing, 2009), where he has long made the first full argument for charter change for that peace process.  He is presently Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 61 of Naga City, Camarines Sur.