MANILA, Philippines – The most prominent Catholic bishop in southern Philippines warned the government against junking the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which aims to create an autonomous Muslim region more powerful than the one in place.
In an interview with MindaNews, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo said Congress should continue discussing the BBL despite investigations into a deadly clash that killed 44 cops and at least 17 Muslim rebels. (READ: Inside Mamasapano: When the bullets ran out)
A week after the Mamasapano clash, Quevedo told MindaNews editor Carolyn Arguillas: “For me, the casualty is not only physical life but the future. The future is represented by the BBL. If it falls by the wayside, the future is unthinkable. Where else can we go without its promise of a just and lasting peace? Where else do we go after many, many years of discussion?”
He added that investigators “should look into the fatal errors of the Mamasapano tragedy and be surgical about the miscalculations...and provide just remedies for them.”
“But to throw away the BBL is like throwing away the tub of water and the baby as well. That would be total disaster. There’s just no hope,” Quevedo, one of the leading voices in the Mindanao peace process, said on Monday, February 2.
In a speech on Friday, February 6, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, for his part, urged the nation to focus on the main objective of “widespread and lasting peace,” as he vowed to ensure that “such a tragedy will never happen again.”
BBL used in 'political posturings'
In his interview with MindaNews, the transcript of which he sent to Rappler on Friday, Quevedo also criticized “political posturings” during the debates on the BBL. He saw these even before the Mamasapano incident.
He explained: “Senators and congressmen were supposed to evaluate the BBL and refine it so that it can be thoroughly in accord with the Constitution. But some of them seem to say, 'This is totally bad. It cannot pass, it cannot pass.' It’s their work to refine the BBL so that it can be within the Constitution and if they don’t do it, I think they are failing in their jobs. So we see a lot of political posturings.”
“Then when the Mamasapano tragedy struck, the posturings became realities. So they said, 'No more, we must withdraw our sponsorship of the BBL,'” he said.
Quevedo recommended that debates on the BBL continue as a “low-profile type of discussion...without the grand posturings and the inflammatory language that merely incite peoples’ anger and desire for revenge.”
He added that “maybe there can be a postponement” of debates for a few days. He said this is “until such time that rationality can operate, until wiser minds can prevail in the leadership of the government, and while the MILF can be tasked to provide reports about what they did and what they are supposed to do now.”
'No justice, no peace'
Like Quevedo, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the Mamasapano incident shouldn't end the peace process.
“If anything, this sad incident underscores the necessity and the urgency of arriving at a solution that is not rushed but that is inclusive, principled, and just to all,” CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said.
In an interview with Rappler, Villegas also urged the prosecution of those responsible for the tragedy. He said there “can be no peace without justice.”
(Watch more in the video below)
Their statements came as lawmakers, such as Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and JV Ejercito, withdrew their support for the BBL because of the Mamasapano incident.
At the same time, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, chair of the Senate committee on local government, “indefinitely” suspended BBL hearings scheduled in Mindanao under his committee.
Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the ad hoc committee on the BBL, also warned that congressmen will stall the BBL if government agencies fail to submit by Monday, February 9, their reports on the Mamasapano incident. – 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 email@example.com.