CEBU CITY, Philippines – Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo on Thursday, January 28, blamed politics for the reported "death" of a proposed law to create a more powerful Muslim region in the southern Philippines.
In an interview with Rappler, Quevedo explained that negotiations for the BBL "are being politicized."
"The BBL and peace itself are sacrificed on the altar of politics," he said on the sidelines of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Cebu City.
"Peace is being sacrificed for political, personal reasons," added Quevedo, the first cardinal from the Philippine island group of Mindanao.
Quevedo said that if the BBL is dead, "it’s dead because of their own fault." He added: "They did not want to listen. They did not want to have a forum."
When asked if he would admit that the BBL is dead, Quevedo answered: "No. I’m still optimistic."
In other words, he still hopes that President Benigno Aquino III, "with his resources, can convince" most lawmakers to pass the BBL.
This comes after Lanao del Sur 2nd District Representative Pangalian Balindong on Wednesday, January 27, said he is closing "the book of hope for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law."
Critics of President Benigno Aquino III stalled the BBL after a controversial encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, killed at least 60 people, including 44 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF), on January 25, 2015.
Opposition senator Juan Ponce Enrile earlier moved to reopen the probe into the Mamasapano bloodbath. Enrile claimed he has evidence of Aquino’s involvement. (READ: Enrile, Gigi Reyes, and the Mamasapano probe)
Presidential aspirant Senator Grace Poe, however, said there was nothing new in the reopened investigation.
Quevedo: 'Extract' Mamasapano
Quevedo, for his part, told Rappler that the new Mamasapano probe only aimed to pin down Aquino and his chosen standard-bearer, Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, as the May 9 presidential elections is fast approaching.
"I think the reopening was purely political, trying to pin the responsibility on the President, and trying also to pin responsibility on Mar Roxas," Quevedo said.
"And who are the ones pushing this? The candidates. The candidates who are against the others, whom they think are responsible for Mamasapano. So to me, it's political," the cardinal said.
Quevedo added that "the only thing that will be revealed" is the clash between the reports of the Philippine Army and SAF on the Mamasapano incident.
"There is a clash," he said. "They have different versions of what has happened. And so they have to figure out – now, who bears responsibility?"
For the cardinal, the fact is that "protocols have been violated" by the SAF.
"They did not coordinate with the military. And the military needs to coordinate with the MILF before anybody can go there," he said. "And because of those violations of protocol, even the Muslims are saying now, ‘Can we really trust the government?'"
For now, Quevedo said politicians should "extract" the Mamasapano incident, "and just look at the BBL on its own merits."
"That’s it – without prejudices and biases against the Muslims being injected into the decision," he said.
Having served in Mindanao for more than 3 decades, Quevedo is one of the leading voices in the Mindanao peace process. He said in a widely quoted paper that "the root of insurgency in Mindanao" is injustice toward Muslims there. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.