Professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer explains the government's position on the BBL at The Standard Talks forum last Wednesday, 15 April.
published 20 April, The Standard
Who in his right mind does not want peace instead of war in Mindanao?
This is true for those of us born and raised here in the capital – yes, even those of us sitting on our comfortable urban armchairs, fancying ourselves educated in what is going on with our country.
We imagine that the yearning for peace is even more ardent for those actually living in strife-torn areas down south. For them, it’s not a choice between reading about peace now or swiping/saving it for later. The ugly realities of war are something they have to contend with and plan their lives around.
This is why we support peace efforts. It is absolutely necessary for a functioning government to extend its hand to insurgents, bring them to the negotiating table and talk to them about their concerns and how these could be addressed.
In this instance, the Philippine government’s untiring, decades-long effort to talk peace with secessionist groups is laudable. It is a sign of sincerity, a genuine gesture of reaching out.
The idea of peace gives us nothing more to pine for. Imagine – it’s a society where the governors and the governed co-exist in a mutually beneficial order.
Heads of families have gainful and sustainable employment. Everyone has enough to eat. Children are in school. People practice the religion they embrace and are tolerant of the beliefs of others, foisting nothing on no one.
In an ideal, peaceful world, there is a place for everybody and everybody feels some sort of purpose and oneness with the community. Workers are engaged. Children are motivated and study hard so that they could eventually contribute to the community.
As a result, the economy benefits from the productivity of its citizens. Peace yields development; development, in turn, breeds a fair and just society such that conflict, disruption and displacement are discouraged.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law is now being equated with peace. No less than President Benigno Aquino III has said that if we do not pass the BBL in its current form, the resulting scenario would be grim. We would be counting body bags instead, he warned. According to him, the alternative to the BBL is total war, a condition even worse than the status quo.
But the BBL in its present form, even its present name, carries baggage.
Foremost, it has been deemed unconstitutional by some legal experts, violating some of the sacred principles enshrined in our Constitution. It’s establishing a territory within a territory, and giving that entity way more powers than the Constitution allows. Some terms like “asymmetrical relationship”, not defined in the proposed law, invite interpretations worlds apart. There are issues about sharing wealth, appropriations, establishment of government agencies and many others that open the document up to valid questions and criticism.
Until all these are raised, talked about and resolved, and all in the public realm, the proposed law will continue to be a source of doubt.
At the Standard Talks forum on the BBL held last week, negotiators from both the government and the MILF remarked that it was possible to talk about the law without mentioning Mamasapano – the tragedy that occured January 25 which claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Force commandos, 18 MILF members and five civilians. After all, they said, the peace talks have been going on for decades. This is certainly longer than the almost three months that Mamasapano had been in the public’s consciousness. More people than the Fallen 44 have died.
Possible, maybe, but difficult. The Mamasapano incident and its aftermath have no doubt cast a darker shadow on the BBL’s prospects, precisely because of the party with whom the government has inked the peace agreement. The MILF continues to say that the policemen failed to coordinate with them regarding the plan to arrest the terrorist. It is silent on the autopsy which said that 27 of the 44 men had been killed at close range. We’re preening hard to find some good faith here – and it’s been tough.
Until this point, too, President Aquino has refused to answer questions regarding his role in the operation, including the pivotal one of whether there was indeed hesitation to send military reinforcement to help the SAF because doing so might endanger the BBL.
Finally, this issue of aliases. So far, what we know is that some of the top officials of the MILF go by multiple names. What these names are, and why they choose to identify themselves in so many ways, have not been sufficiently explained. Chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal simply claims that revealing his true name would endanger his security. He has used this as an incentive to passing the BBL. He also says his counterparts in the peace process have known his name all along. The Palace says it is a non-issue.
Oh, but it is. Names are fundamental. This is why we don’t readily trust anonymous reports or take at face value statements from anonymous sources. This is why we will not dare come to an agreement with somebody using an alias. How can he or she be bound by what is on paper?
These are the things that tell us that the BBL issue will be here for a long time. As it must. It cannot be fast-tracked or shoved down our throats. The people want answers, definitions, names and other specifics.
The people want peace, and BBL may just one of the means with which to achieve peace. The BBL is not peace, and peace is not the BBL. Let’s not shy away from questions and discussions. Superficial, fleeting peace is just as dangerous—if not more