Tagle, Ayala lead citizens’ council on Bangsamoro

Natashya Gutierrez

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Tagle, Ayala lead citizens’ council on Bangsamoro
President Benigno Aquino III announces the creation of a council that would help the public understand the Bangsamoro Basic Law

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – On the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), President Benigno Aquino III announced his latest move to continue his administration’s push for peace in Mindanao: a council of leaders to scrutinize the proposed Bangsamoro law and explain it to the public.

On Friday, March 27, Aquino said the council will be “independent” and would be made up of “citizen leaders” with “wisdom and integrity.” The council, he said, will convene a National Peace Summit that will address issues concerning the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“I am fully aware that the events in Mindanao, together with the incident in Mamasapano, have sowed doubt in the minds of our countrymen. The result: it has pushed aside the objective evaluation of the BBL,” he said.

“To address this, I am inviting citizen leaders known for their wisdom and integrity to stand as independent convenors.”

The members of the council will be Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr, businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See and Malta Howard Dee, and founder of Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.

“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,” said Aquino.

“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.”

Aquino’s announcement comes two months since the Mamasapano clash that has put in jeopardy the historic peace agreement lauded by his administration as its biggest achievement.

The clash occurred less than a year after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a landmark peace deal with the Philippine government, and as lawmakers deliberate on the proposed BBL, which seeks to create an autonomous region initially headed by the MILF. The BBL lost support among lawmakers after Mamasapano.

On January 25, some 392 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos entered Mamasapano town, a known bailiwick of the MILF, to execute Oplan Exodus, an operation to arrest top terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman

The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that claimed at least 67 lives, including 44 SAF troopers. The MILF blamed this on the SAF team’s failure to coordinate with them, as provided in its ceasefire agreement with the government on operations in known MILF territories. 

The administration, however, has insisted that delaying the law any further would only be detrimental to the region. Senate and House leaders agreed, meanwhile, to set a new deadline for the passage of the proposed law by the end of the 2nd regular session in June. 

No to all-out war

Aquino also warned that as the government and the MILF come closer to peace, the voices of those against it will intensify. But the President emphasized that all-out war is not the answer.

“There are also those who call for an end to the peace process. They say that all-out war is the way to go. And I ask them: 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 said.

“All-out war has been the response since the 70s. How did that turn out for them and for us? The only result: hundreds of thousands of casualties, ruined livelihoods, and a status quo of suffering in Mindanao. Is it not clear that their approach was wrong?”

The President added that if peace talks are derailed again, it may push those for peace now towards violence. He also said it would be harder to instigate talks again if the current ones are put aside.

“If the troubling situation in Mindanao worsens, the wounds would grow deeper, and more persons would resent their condition. Those who were previously neglected and abused by the system and by institutions will further feel mistreated,” he said.

“Those who have never been reached by the assistance of government will suffer all the more. Do you think that, should all this happen, they will be sincere partners in peace talks after being hurt, after shedding blood, and after being persecuted?”

Aquino also hit those who have voiced their lack of support for the BBL, without providing alternatives.

“Perhaps it is easy for you to push for all-out war because Luzon and Visayas are far from the conflict. But if the conflict grows, the number of Filipinos shooting at other Filipinos will grow, and it would not be out of the question that a friend or loved one be one of the people who will end up inside a body bag,” he said.

“If you ask the soldiers, police, and other uniformed ranks, they would be the first to oppose war, because they would bear the brunt of it.”

Not for legacy

The President also reiterated he is not pushing for peace for his own legacy, but for future generations.

Let me make it clear: This decision is not just for the remainder of my term, but for the benefit of the next generations,” he said.

Aquino said if the region prospers, it will help the whole country.

I do not pursue peace just to add to my legacy. What we are pursuing is a genuine peace that truly addresses the roots of the problems that led to violence. At this point in our history, I say to all of you: The BBL will make this a reality,” he said.

Aquino is scheduled to step down in 2016.– Rappler.com

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.