This article originally appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on February 15, 2016. Comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


IT WAS like the parting of the Red Sea. On one side were the pros, on the other the antis. The antis’ motivation for rejecting the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was largely ethnic discrimination against the Moro people. Let’s admit it: The BBL aroused age-old prejudices that we all thought had died out as we moved farther away from our colonial years. Prejudice is and will always be the wrong lens for judging the BBL.


As is the lens of President Aquino and his barkers. Many roundly endorsed the BBL: “It’s the best there is,” in the manner of the French “c’est ce qui se fait de mieux.” But we in Mindanao were not born yesterday, as Manila. For all that is being touted about it, the BBL merely provides an illusion of peace in southern Mindanao. Its nonenactment should now be deemed a blessing in disguise.


Those who say the BBL is dead are not quite correct. It may lie dormant but it is not in rigor mortis. As the saying goes, every black cloud has a silver lining. The BBL has “abnormalities” that the next legislature can and must address to correct. To say that it doesn’t is like inflicting despotism upon the Moro masses and indigenous peoples. And this is where the Aquino administration must be held accountable for: the charade of peace it regaled us with.


Those who have their feet on the ground in Mindanao will easily acknowledge the gravity of poverty in the Moro regions. (How many of our Manila-based pundits have lived in or, at least, have stepped foot on Moroland?) Moro society continues to be for the most part feudal. Land ownership and access largely lie in the hands of royal families. This is even compounded by the Manila-centric, traditional politics that breeds political dynasties and the mercenary elite.


Under the BBL, Moro feudalism will be vaguely addressed, if at all, by the Bangsamoro Parliament it proposes to create. How will the BBL stop the wealthy and the powerful from controlling parliament? This is the proposed law’s greatest deformity, which promises only an illusion of peace in Mindanao. It calls for “equitable representation of constituencies” but through—and we know what this implies—political parties? It does not guarantee inclusive democracy for the Moro people, the kind of democracy that would demolish political elitism.


The war in southern Mindanao is not “all military vs. protest forces.” Yes, there are cries for nationhood (a valid clamor which I can understand, as a social science academic). It is also about feuding families. In fact, the clan wars can be more vicious for it completely disregards the lot of the poor who have no access to political power. Mass evacuations from war-torn areas are an indication of that. In many cases, both the military and the protest forces are even used as surrogates in the clan wars which are telling indicants of the disenfranchisement of the poor—a condition that basically ails Moro society. Would the Bangsamoro Parliament have been able to cure that basic problem? For now, that remains a rhetorical question.


The other farce the Aquino administration delighted us with was on the plight of the indigenous peoples (IPs) who live in their ancestral lands within the proposed Bangsamoro territory. Not many of us are well aware that south central Mindanao, particularly the vast Cotabato riverine plain, is the point of greatest cultural diversity in Mindanao. This is an area populated by the Teduray, B’laan (various localities), Erumanen Menuvu (the towns of Carmen, Pikit, Aleosan and Pigkawayan), and the Erumanen-Livunganen Menuvu, not to mention the Higaunon in the boundaries of Iligan City and Lanao del Sur and the animist Sama Dilaut sea nomads who are at the lowest rung of the Bangsamoro society in the Sulu archipelago.


The scenario for non-Moro lumad is one of cultural callousness: Once the BBL is imposed, all ancestral domain claims and titles under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (Republic Act No. 8371 or Ipra) will be “abolished.”


RA 8371 will be replaced by a new ancestral domain law; how constitutional is that as Ipra was duly legislated? Since last year, cultural communities in the affected territory were living on edge. The BBL effectively threatened to pull the rug from under their feet, so to speak.


Both Moro and non-Moro communities in the Cotabato plains share a legend about their common origin. To this day this legend continues to be told and retold. The storyline may shift, but the plot remains the same: Once there were two brothers, Mamalu and Tabunaway. The latter converted to Islam at the time of Sharif Kabungsuwan’s arrival (believed to have taken place in 1414), but the former held fast to his animist faith. Tabunaway became the ancestor of the Maguindanao people, but both brothers maintained their close fraternity. The story is received with strong resonance among both Moro and non-Moro peoples in the Cotabato plains. Modern age, of course, frowns on legends, but such are a potent facet of cultural identity that even framers of the BBL should not miss out. The Mamalu-Tabunaway legend offers a strong clue on cultural coexistence.


However, all that the IPs got from Mr. Aquino’s “peace summit for dissecting the BBL” were machinations against them. One legal anthropologist was listed among the participants; in fact he was in Europe for his doctoral studies. A participant said Teresita Deles tried to influence the discussions in the summit. Mr. Aquino had said the summit would be independent; it turned out to be a parody.


Doomsayers who claim war is the alternative to the BBL’s nonpassage are the real mercenaries who put the Moro masses at their mercy. Use the interregnum to craft a more inclusive and collaborative basic law that improves on the present one. Why is that such a big deal?