Duterte urged to create Bangsamoro transitional justice commission

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte, who frequently talks about historical injustices in Mindanao in his speeches, is being urged to create a commission to address deep-rooted grievances of the Bangsamoro people in order to bring about peace in the region.

The government implementing panel for the Bangsamoro peace accord is prioritizing the creation of such a body, called the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro.

The creation of the commission is among the recommendations by an independent body on how to address grievances of Mindanaoans which have long stood in the way of peace in the region.

Irene Santiago, chairperson of the government implementing panel, said such a commission is necessary for establishing programs on reconciliation and justice.

Muslims of Mindanao cite abuses by Spanish, American, and Japanese colonial governments; land dispossession; forced displacement; and human rights violations by government as among the injustices that cast a shadow on the peace process.

"[The commission] is a priority because most of the recommendations are really the responsibility of that commission so if you want the implementation to go on already then we have that national commission," Santiago told Rappler on Monday, February 20.

She said she will urge President Rodrigo Duterte to either craft an executive order creating the commission or declare his support for a law creating such a body within the year.

"We'd like to do that as soon as possible. One of the things that I found is that healing and reconciliation is a very difficult thing. That's why people don't usually get into it because it's hard. You've had people who have had hurts and relationships that have been so injured for so long," she said.

The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), the independent body that made the recommendations, suggests a 7-member body.

Aside from a chairperson, there should be 4 sub-committee members, and 2 ex-officio members from civil society.

Bangsamoro monuments, history

TJRC chairperson Mo Bleeker said several of the 90 recommendations made by her group can be implemented "immediately," even before the signing of a basic law for the Bangsamoro region.

Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, lead coordinator of the TJRC Listening Process, said these "low-hanging fruits" include creating landmarks to commemorate sites of atrocities committed in the Bangsamoro region and integrating Bangsamoro history into the curricula of schools all over the country.

"We should be teaching Moro history to the larger Philippine public which is still clueless to what happened in the past to the Bangsamoro people," she said. 

Celebrating Mindanao icons of heroism may also help heal the hurt still in the hearts of the Bangsamoro people, said TJRC.

Fight vs extremism

TJRC members said addressing historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people is critical to stemming the tide of extremism in some parts of Mindanao.

Young Muslims in the region are particularly vulnerable to the siren song of extremist groups both in and outside the country.

"We see the young people, some of them already recruited by international extremist groups. These are borne out of frustrations. When they don't see anything good, they find alternatives," said Guiamel Alim, another TJRC Listening Process coordinator. 

Cagoco-Guiam said she has heard of the indoctrination of young Muslims into "extremist thinking" in Lanao del Sur and Zamboanga.

Santiago is confident that Duterte, the first Mindanaoan president, will champion the creation of the national transitional justice commission.

"The focus of his entire campaign has really been to correct historical injustices. No presidential candidate ever before him has spoken about historical injustice so this is the time to do it. I am very sure he's going to want that national commission established as soon as possible," said Santiago.

On Monday, the TJRC submitted its last reports to the government implementing panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front panel. – Rappler.com 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.