Bangsamoro challenge: Open up the process
On the question of what this refers to, the answer really depends on who you’re asking. Perhaps rightly so, since an event may be invariably unjust for some, though not for others, and a unanimously unjust event may be experienced by individuals or groups differently, or may have a different impact on one as for others.
There are volumes of historical, political and ideological accounts on the question of what went wrong in the history of Mindanao.
Historical injustices have been depicted in various ways:
There is injustice, according to many Moro writers, in the emergent relationship between the Philippine State and the Bangsamoro people, enshrined today in no less than the Philippine Constitution.
Such injustice saw its roots in the attempts to conquer and subjugate Moro communities at the time of the Spaniards, which communities already had their own political and social institutions with established political and economic links with neighboring principalities in Borneo, Java and other places – in short, a semblance of sovereignty even before the Philippine Republic came to be. Later on, according to these accounts, such injustice came to full execution in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, when these areas were lumped together with islands in Luzon and the Visayas, and then ceded to the US, as part of the Philippines.
From that time onwards, peoples in these areas who had previously enjoyed the opportunity to govern themselves were placed under a government that had been for the most part alien to them, under laws and institutions that were seen to be inconsistent with many of their values, customs and beliefs.
Further, injustice also came in the form of denial of economic rights and deprivation of property long held and passed on through generations. By some accounts, these were made possible through laws and policies of resettlement and relocation of new communities, which forced communities of old to leave lands held by their ancestors, which did not only hold economic value, but also had profound links to their ultimate beliefs and identities.
Injustice, in the former sense, is further worsened by blatantly disparate access to other opportunities and disregard for certain rights, such as access to education and employment, which has put in a disadvantaged position by rendering them practically unable to assert many of their fundamental rights, against the abuses of those who have such access and are wont to take advantage.
In this context, those who are inclined to take advantage bring about other forms of injustices by primarily imposing their desires over others and consummating such an imposition through political dominance (i.e. entrenching unjust policies in laws), economic dominance (i.e. ensuring control over wealth and material resources so that legitimate grievances are held hostage), or otherwise, dominance as control over the physical security of our communities (i.e. amassing firearms and organizing private armies that threaten those who try to go against them).
These are some of the various forms of injustices, which are deemed to be the roots of social inequities we see today in our communities in Mindanao. These are the same injustices, which put the few in a position to decide the fate of many, without a genuine relationship of representation or consultation, or regard for the uniqueness of the conditions of people other than themselves. Also, the same injustices that deprive peoples of their rights, deny recognition of their identities and undermine the inherent equality of persons.
To my understanding, the imposition of laws and policies and even of narratives is unjust not merely because of the so-called refusal to recognize historical institutions and exercise of sovereignty that existed before, but more because of the refusal to recognize the inherent agency of peoples in Mindanao to discern their conditions and decide their own affairs.
CAB's key features
The next question is, does the CAB or the Bangsamoro Basic Law address these various forms of injustices? Perhaps so, in many ways:
- The CAB reiterates the relationship of asymmetry, and the notion of autonomy and self-governance.
- It proposes a new structure for power sharing, which emphasizes not only the sharing of competencies between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government, but also the sharing in governance among the various communities in the region, including local governments, minorities and indigenous peoples – through the parliamentary form of government.
- It presents a more sophisticated framework for sharing in revenues, wealth and access to natural resources, with new modalities for preferential rights of inhabitants over natural resources.
- It reiterates basic rights and other entitlements, as well as services due from Government, not just for the dominant lot – but more so for IPs and other minorities.
- It provides a framework for decommissioning of armed groups and disbandment of private armies, coupled with more access to decision making on security matters.
- It recognizes the need for responsive transitional justice mechanisms for all affected stakeholders.
Yet one might also ask, is the CAB or the Bangsamoro Basic Law the definitive solution to these various forms of injustices?
Unfortunately, not everything we want to change in the unacceptable status quo can be effected by mere legislation or even by agreement between parties.
The challenge for the Bangsamoro peace process is to break free from the usual mode of negotiations that has been in place since 1997. This is one more change that needs to happen.
Open up the process
When the CAB was signed last March, that signaled more than just a conclusion of the formal negotiations, but also that the peace process has evolved anew.
FIRST. There is a need to open up the process, and disabuse our minds of expectations that the most important conversations ought to take place behind close doors.
The conversation is one that should now take place among members of the communities in the prospective Bangsamoro: A conversation where they can ask and discuss among themselves their aspirations, values, and institutions as individuals, and as a society, and ways to unite behind ideals that they commonly share, and how to accommodate those that they may not.
This peace process is indeed such an opportunity for our communities to decide for themselves matters that for a long time had been decided for them, and were only later imposed for their submission, in the unacceptable status quo.
People need to feel that they own they process, that they can genuinely participate in its mechanisms, and not only to agree or express support.
SECOND. During the negotiations, it sufficed that the Parties were able to speak and articulate the positions of their respective principals. Now, it is imperative that those who seek to lead must demonstrate the ability, willingness and openness to understand and see beyond the fences of their natural constituencies, and to appreciate legitimate grievances when held by others.
Those who wish to lead need to demonstrate this in their brand of governance and leadership, if it were to be a departure from the unacceptable status quo.
Justice is fairness.
Those who want to govern need to be able to listen not just to opinions or positions that agree with theirs, but more importantly too, those that oppose.
Road to sustainable peace
They need to show that they are able to demonstrate a fair appreciation of the concerns of other peoples, in the same way or in the same extent, and with the same vigor and fervor, that they represent and fight for their own grievances and the constituencies of which they are a part.
We need to be clear that in the prospective Bangsamoro, we can freely disagree and express our disagreements, and that this will not necessarily threaten the peace; that in the midst of our disagreements, we will still be able to maintain harmonious relationships, not characterized by imposition and injustices, much like those we are trying to change in the unacceptable status quo.
In conclusion, almost two decades ago, we as a people were at a similar crossroads, when we found ourselves confronted by new institutions that were to be set up, which institutions were founded on values, historical narratives and a vision of the future that were embodied in a peace agreement that was signed between two parties.
Today we continue - and the Government continues - to grapple with the glaring legal, political, and social gaps in the solution that that previous agreement offered. Today, one of the few things we can agree about, referring to that experience, is that it was a “failed experiment.”
The failures in our previous experience can be attributed perhaps to the quite unfortunate notion that a peace process can succeed resting only on the shoulders of a few individuals or even a few groups.
Not even the most respectable statesman nor the most veritable leader can sustain peace for the rest of community working alone. Nor even a hundred of them will be able to sustain it without the people supporting it.
The challenge remains today as it was before: how to entrench not just new institutions, not just a new law, but a peace that is sustainable.
Sustainable peace requires that we maintain institutions and systems of governance that are inclusive, participatory, transparent and accountable to the people. Accountability requires that the people are clear about their rights, entitlements and what they can expect and demand from people who govern them.
Today, we need to remind ourselves that we are past closed-door negotiations and conversations just for two.
We need to open up those doors, open our minds, and listen to our people, because in these narratives of conflict in Mindanao – as for any other – there are not just two sides to the story. - Rappler.com
Johaira Wahab was the head of the legal team of the Government Peace Panel from 2010 to 2013, and a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission until April 2014. She currently serves as a Foreign Service Officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs. She delivered this speech on the occasion of the National Convocation of the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines (CEAP) in Manila, organized by the CEAP National Advocacy Commission chaired by Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ of the Ateneo de Davao University.