Should peace be contingent on the BBL?

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M

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Should peace be contingent on the BBL?
The peace effort in Mindanao deserves a paradigm that should not be merely grounded on political considerations, be it from the Aquino administration or from the MILF

This is not to say that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) can easily be set aside in the peace-building process. In fact, the flipside of this proposition is the admission that the BBL is so important that its enactment must not be limited by the self-serving and even unrealistic deadline set by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

If the BBL, or any other regional autonomy statute for that matter, is to be a truly organic piece of legislation, then it must emanate from the very people who will be responsible for making it work and as determined by their own nuances and needs.  

As it stands now, the BBL seems to represent the work of a select few that is being rammed upon the unsuspecting majority. Maybe treating the BBL simply as an amending law to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) rather than as the centerpiece of a peace accord would be a more forgiving and less volatile alternative.

The unanimous lament over the untenable experience with the ARMM would indeed warrant taking a completely different and more innovative approach in establishing the new regional autonomy regime.

Ostensibly, for the peace-building process to gain significant political traction, it is very critical to put the Mindanao crisis in the right perspective, which is especially helpful for a non-Mindanawon like me. The armed conflict maybe between the government and the MILF but the immeasurable grief it has brought is shared by Muslims and lumads alike, the vast majority of whom share no appetite for combat at all with any of the insurgency groups and terrorist extremists in the region.

Hence, the peace effort in Mindanao deserves a paradigm that should not be merely grounded on political considerations, be it from the Aquino administration or from the MILF.  

Set in stone

Indeed, history would demand that the foremost requirement for peace should be the official government recognition of accountability for the large-scale and indiscriminate immigration of Filipinos from Luzon and the Visayas to Mindanao. There should no longer be any doubt that the marginalization of Filipino Muslims and lumads in their own traditional lands was a direct result of this state action. And this accepted fact must now be properly set in stone, so to speak. Needless to say, the scope of this acceptance of responsibility necessarily includes the oppressive and wanton military actions in the violence-ridden areas in the region since Martial Law.

As the head of state, the President can convey this official acknowledgment through his annual State of the Nation Address. I must note that the act of a government to recognize a profound shortcoming is not without precedent. 

Successive Prime Ministers of Australia have in fact done this for different reasons within the last decade. In February 13, 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd conveyed during a special session of the Australian Parliament an apology to Aboriginal Australians for discriminatory acts perpetuated against them by past governments. Another former prime minister, Julia Gillard, issued a formal apology last March 21, 2013 to the victims of forced adoptions implemented by the government in the 1950s.

Since these apologies were made, I believe the vast majority of the Australian public have become more conscious of their responsibility to repair the damage caused by these unjust government acts. In fact, I have personally heard Aboriginal Australian elders laude Rudd’s official recognition of the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples of Australia as a good start to the reconciliation process.

But I claim no historical parallelism here. Rather I would simply like to highlight the optimism that a similar state action could also initiate a healing process in Mindanao.

Grassroot level

Moreover, concomitant to this official recognition, the President must also express a firm guarantee that the work of the transitional justice commission organized to address the historical injustices and human rights violations committed against Muslim and lumad communities in Mindanao will proceed completely unhindered. There should be no sacred cows or cover-ups. 

And as I have written elsewhere, reparation and restoration for the communities ravaged by the fighting should not simply be treated as an ideal to aspire for. As an indispensable condition for lasting peace, this pursuit for justice must translate to tangible remedial actions at the grassroots level.

Lastly, the demands of sustainable peace also behove the President to heed the suggestion of the eminent academic from Ateneo de Davao University, Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan, that education must play a big role in explaining the real story of the Mindanao crisis. I remember Prof. Muss narrating a story about a trip to Iloilo where high school teachers actually still believe the propaganda version of Muslim history in Mindanao. 

Therefore, an integral component of the official recognition proposed here must be a directive from the President to all state educational institutions to include the real history of Muslim Mindanao in its curriculum.

It is absolutely imperative that Filipino youths from Batanes to Jolo form a clearer and more accurate comprehension of the Mindanao crisis. After all, they will be the keepers of the peace we are all working for. –


Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective. He researches on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.”


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