MANILA, Philippines – Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, 7 Catholic bishops, and 50 Christian and Muslim advocates joined forces to push for a landmark in the peace process that aims to end a 4-decade-old Muslim secessionist movement.
“Pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that secures justice and peace,” the 58 signatories said in their statement, “Hear Mindanao: Requite Evil with Good,” that was published on Monday, February 16.
In the statement, the signatories said the government should not abandon the peace process in Mindanao “precisely because” of the controversial police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), 18 Muslim rebels, and at least 3 civilians on January 25.
“Hear Mindanao: the peace process should not be imperiled. Let the revolution stop. Let Mindanawons turn factories of war into factories of prosperity. Let those in the north and in the south who are charged with leadership walk humbly, calmly, and wisely before the God of Peace together,” the bishops and advocates said.
“Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you. Do not requite evil with evil. Requite evil with good, confusion and rage with wisdom, death with life,” they added.
The BBL aims to create an autonomous Muslim region more powerful than the one in place.
The bloodbath in Mamasapano, however, stalled the BBL as critics questioned the sincerity of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the peace process.
The MILF is the Muslim rebel group engaged in peace talks with the Philippine government. Its critics say it perpetrated an alleged “massacre” of the SAF members.
The MILF is investigating this incident as the Philippine government looks into this as well. An MILF commander, for his part, denies the supposed “overkill” on the part of Muslim rebels.
'We do not want war'
In their statement, the 58 signatories said they hope the suspension in deliberations on the BBL will “allow us to reflect on our broad aspirations as a people.... We do not want war. We want peace.”
While investigations push through, they stressed the need for humility among the parties involved.
“In the pursuit of truth, we believe humility is more helpful than arrogance, more helpful than rage or anger. Humility admits one’s own biases and prejudices against others in the search for truth and justice. Humility admits respect for persons or organizations from whom we seek truth,” they said.
After all, “no one has a monopoly on righteousness” and a “monopoly on guilt.”
They also encouraged the public to study the root of the conflict.
Echoing Quevedo's earlier statements, they pointed out that the MILF “took up arms against the government in the face of an undeniable history of intolerance, violence, and exclusion.” (READ: Cardinal to Christians: Moro dream 'very valid')
“We need to know and recognize Bangsamoro history, their political and territorial sovereignty that held sway even in the Manila of Rajah Sulaiman, the massacres (such as Jabidah, Manili, Bud Dajo, Bud Bagsak) that they have suffered, the 300 years of Moro wars waged against successive governments, Spanish, American, and Filipino, their displacement and that of the Lumad from most of Mindanao through waves of migration from Luzon and the Visayas and land registration policies,” the signatories said.
“They revolted to achieve their aspiration to live their religious convictions and shared culture in peace. Their original call was for independence in quest of a true homeland. The BBL wants to achieve much less than this – self determination in a limited territory while preserving national sovereignty and national integrity,” they added.
The following personalities signed the statement, according to the version posted by one of the signatories, Ateneo de Davao University president Father Joel Tabora, on his website:
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, for its part, said it is ready to assist the Philippine government in the peace process.
Still, it dared President Benigno Aquino III to explain his role in the Mamasapano incident, which thrust his administration in one of its worst crises. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.