Sunday, March 8, 2015

Peace and Justice in the Bangsamoro (A Religious/Catholic Perspective)

By Fr. Urbano Pardillo Jr.
Dean of Studies
St. Francis Xavier College Seminary

The issue of the Bangsamoro Basic Law has been the topic of various fora and debates in many social groups and institutions including the Catholic Church in the Philippines. This is the reason why the catholic leaders especially the Bishops issued a Pastoral statement to guide its members regarding its position on the issue.  My task this afternoon is to present the religious and catholic perspective on the issues pertaining the BBL coupled with some reflections as a Christian philosopher.

CBCP Pastoral Statement on the Proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has issued a statement on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) last January 22, 2015. The statement outlines the church’s position.  In this statement, the CBCP recognized the efforts of the Government and the MILF that “after so many years of grave discussions replete with turns and stops, they have finally reached an agreement which they believe is the basis of a just and lasting peace.”

In making this position, the Catholic leaders (the Bishops) through the CBCP make it clear that in presenting their view as religious leaders, they “do not propose any specific political or ideological blueprint for peace”. They also recognize that they are “not negotiators nor political officials.” They even recognized the fact that they are not constitutionalists or lawyers. Rather, it the task of religious leaders “to proclaim, as Jesus did (Eph. 2:16), “glad tidings of peace.” The specific concerns thus, are the religious and moral imperatives of peace.

The Religious and Moral Imperatives of Peace

Peace is God’s Gift

It is a fundamental teaching of Christianity that peace is a gift from God. That is why the CBCP goes on saying that “because peace is God’s gift, we need constantly to pray for peace, the peace that God desires for all of us, the peace that reconciles us with one another, with God, and with all His creation”

The CBCP considers also that we can find peace first and foremost, in the heart, of the heart. It is harmony, unity. It is reconciliation which happens in the mutual forgiveness of peoples
In this perspective the statement says, “A peace agreement may be signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Armed conflicts may cease. But if hatred or desire for revenge or dislike or aversion consumes the heart, if deep historic biases and prejudices remain, the eruption of violent conflict is simply simmering below the surface of apparently peaceful co-existence.”

Peace Comes with Justice

The catholic leaders believe that peace is not the fruit of a mere handshake or an embrace but that it comes with justice. It is the assurance of respect for fundamental human dignity and human rights. Here the CBCP statement mentions how peace that comes with justice should be understood:
A.) For the Bangsamoro, justice means the recognition of their centuries-old aspiration for self-determination, their right to chart their own destiny in dignity and freedom.
B.) For the whole country justice requires the acceptance of the overarching right of national sovereignty and national territorial integrity.
C.) For Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro, justice means respect for and protection of their right to their ancestral domain already officially recognized by the Indigenous Peoples Right Acts (IPRA).
D.) For non-Muslim and non-indigenous inhabitants in the Bangsamoro, justice is a recognition and protection of their fundamental human rights, such as religious freedom and property rights.

Peace Comes with Fairness and Equity

The Catholic leaders in their statement desire that the provisions of the BBL express fairness and equity. They hope that the BBL will ensure equal opportunity for integral human development for all the peoples in the Bangsamoro. They desire a BBL that will respect various cultures, religious beliefs and traditions and they wish to be assured that the BBL will provide equal access to educational, economic, political benefits and resources.

Peace is Unity through Dialogue

The CBCP believes that dialogue is the way to peace, not the use of arms and that when the encounter of persons from opposite sides is authentically human, it is the Spirit of the Lord that draws them together finally as friends. In the light of the above moral and religious considerations, the CBCP proposed these recommendations:

1. We commend the perseverance of the negotiating panels of both the government and the MILF that, even with changes of key personnel through the years, persevered in the peace process, changing the nature of tense and troubled negotiations into trustful dialogue for peace.
2. We commend the realism of the MILF vision to dialogue towards self-determination while respecting and preserving national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
3. We appeal to Congress to sift objectively and wisely through the results of their Mindanao-wide consultation and ensure that the fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination be effectively enshrined in the final BBL, together with the twin national principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
4. We strongly recommend that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the non-Muslim peoples in the Bangsamoro – Christians, peoples of other faiths, and Indigenous peoples — be respected and promoted as already enshrined in existing laws, such as property rights and the IP ancestral domain.
5. We recommend the inclusion of a provision in the BBL that would make it impossible in the future for any radical extremist group to exploit or change the democratic framework of the Bangsamoro government so as to deny both the doctrine and practice of religious freedom.
6. We pray to our Lord God for wisdom for our legislators so that they would keep in mind the good of the Bangsamoro and the common good of all Filipinos.

My Reflection: “Guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79):

The gospel verse taken from Luke is the chosen title of the CBCP Pastoral statement. It simply implies the prayer of the Christian that left on his own he would be lagging behind to pursue peace. It recognizes that given the limitations and weaknesses of humanity, it will always find ways to wander and to evade due to pride and arrogance. However, the pursuit of peace is always a Christian calling. It is coming from a recognition that peace comes from God and therefore everyone must pray for it. However, this pursuit of peace brings a challenge to the Christian to live up to the prerequisites to peace. Love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, humility, generosity and justice are among the necessary values so that peace may reign.

The catholic position presented by the CBCP together with its various considerations takes its courage from the resolve to attain peace in Mindanao. The pursuit of peace through the BBL is a welcome move. However, the moral and religious imperatives should seriously be considered by both negotiating panels so as include the common good of all Filipinos.

I believe that the dissenting opinions and reluctance of many Christians about the BBL could be traced back to the centuries of bias and prejudice against the Moro people. Many are apprehensive about the future of Mindanao due to mistrust which was cemented with the decades of war. However, Christians are lovers of peace. We continue to pursue it and ask the Lord “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1,79).

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Colonization and the Bangsa Moro Struggle and Call for Peace

by Atty. Jamil Matalam

What I offer here is only a perspective or frame concerning the political issues involving and surrounding the Bangsa Moro. It is no political position, although it is my position that only democratic or political solutions are really possible. I point out here the urgency of peace to deter the outbreak of a possible catastrophic violence or war.


A Filipino must be perplexed why Jose Rizal, whose portrait most teachers of Philippine history tell us was: an artist, sweet boy, timid, short in height and alone was sentenced to death? He is no ‘terrorist’, in fact, even in his radical stage in the El Filibusterismo, he would not use the explosives to kill all the oppressors partying in one house—the perfect opportunity. But because he has to be put to death by the authorities, it is clear that he was perceived, at least by the government, to be a dangerous man. But why would a Jose Rizal, unarmed, be dangerous?

To that question there could be one good answer: Rizal, despite the timid portrait, is a dangerous radical. He wanted to actually create a “Filipino Nation”—the most radical idea. In doing so he did not only challenged ‘politically’ the colonial government but also the very foundation for its establishment in the Islands. He discovered that the history of the people of these Islands has a past way long before the arrival of Magellan, i.e. that Magellan discovered these Islands was the greatest lie! In his stay in London he found out that the people of these Islands were prosperous and have wealthy economic life with its neighboring Malays, Indians and Chinese before they were deliberately isolated by its Spanish colonizers. Their lives were killed, the people of these Islands were robbed of their history and was separated from their race—a grand scale identity kidnapping. In order to build a Filipino Nation and revive the lives of the people of these Islands, Rizal asked that the Spanish colonizers and Powers to leave.

Among the various reasons for the colonial policy of isolating these Islands with its race, there are two possible good reasons. First, known to and thought by Rizal, is to control possible uprising and resistance by the people; the colonizers thought that if the people of these Islands maintain relations with the rest of their race, strong resistance to their powers would easily come. Thus, according to Rizal, the economic life of these Islands for a long time was mainly restricted to Acapulco, Mexico, regardless of how it would devastate the lives of its people. Second is the 1529 Capitulation of Zaragoza between Portugal and Spain. The treaty of Zaragoza restricted possible Spanish colonies to the Pacific and West America. In fact, however, Spanish colonization of these Islands was in violation of the treaty, but it was tolerated by the Portuguese Crown. It was this violation that led the Spanish powers to isolate these Islands and its people from the rest of its race, i.e. they cannot anymore colonize other areas in Asia aside from these Islands. This is the history of the modern Philippine territory, how it came to be geographically defined.

Whether Rizal has in mind the modern Philippine territory when he thought of his Filipino Nation is unclear. Maybe it is because the juridico-legal meaning of the term territory was not as important during his time compared today. In modern legal theory, territory means sovereign jurisdiction.  In the formation of the Philippine Republic, which is a modern state, the colonial boundaries was assumed and adapted unquestionably. Our unmindfulness of the colonial boundaries for a long time now proves to be a great obstacle that we have to hurdle for us to move as a people—the Bangsa Moro struggle.

The colonial boundaries set by European powers were no cultural boundaries. It did not take into consideration cultural differences and the history of the people of these Islands. Juxtapose this with the modern concept of territorial jurisdiction, and then we have, in the Philippines, the Bangsa Moro struggle. The treaties of Tordesillas, Zaragoza and Paris need not mind the actual cultural boundaries because it only involves them and not the people of these Islands. But, nevertheless, the colonizers did recognize cultural boundaries in their actual dealings with the people of these Islands; for instance, entering into treaties with the Sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu. It was only when the Independent Philippines emerged that these cultural differences was set aside in government policies and laws. So much so that the new Independent Philippines, with its modern theory of territorial jurisdiction, thought that it was not illegal to occupy the lands and divest the indigenous peoples of Mindanao and Sulu of their land holdings; it was only a sovereign or a state act.  

The forgetfulness of our long and rich pre-colonial history together with the neglect to consider cultural boundaries in these Islands makes it difficult for many of us to properly think of the Bangsa Moro struggle normatively and politically. For them, normatively, the Bangsa Moro struggle is not even a struggle but only a criminal act, at least a rebellion. Politically, we think that it can be solved by mere enforcement of the laws, legal and not political. It should have been seen as an assertion of cultural boundaries and sovereignties; the Bangsa Moro struggle is a secessionist movement.

Our persistence not to see this as problematic only exacerbates the difficulty in the search for practical or political solutions. For instance, because the history of the Philippines give the arrival of Magellan a central role, which it does not deserve, it does not understand well the Islamic history and dimensions of the Moro people—they are mere pirates. It fails to see that (1) the Bangsa Moro struggle is not merely local, and considering that the Moro people were Muslims even prior to Magellan’s arrival, (2) historical developments in the Muslim world will affect the Bangsa Moro. This is also the reason why an all-out war, not only the most stupid, will never be a solution—this would require genocide of a people part of the Muslim world. The might of the Muslim world would descent in these Islands if that ever happens.

No war can be a solution therefore for all. There can only be political solutions and political solutions are most urgent now. The recent incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, by now has reached the Muslim warriors at the power centers of the Islamic world, and would interpret that as an invitation to come in. If they come, their enemies will come as well, turning these Islands into their battle fields, and its people fighting a war that is not truly theirs. We have to call for peace and find democratic or political solutions to the problems that beset the Bangsa Moro in order for us to determine our destiny as a people and not be mere flow in the ebb of global politics.  This would entail re-examining our assumptions about what a Filipino Nation is.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Political Corruption, Business and Reform (Part II)

By Cristian Ramirez
University of Mindanao


The Greek philosopher Thales is remembered for his cosmology, in which water forms the basic material principle of an orderly universe. Over the course of time, it was Anaximenes who said that the essential element for the universe is air. Many other pre-Socratics declare the inconsistencies of these thinkers and created their own. Until such time that Empedocles proclaims that the universe is made up of four fundamental elements namely, the earth, air, fire and water.  Thus far the discovery of atoms by Democritus and Leucippus led to the new conception of the origin of universe. Now we rely heavily on what is said by the famous thinkers about the world. When Newton said that in every action, there is always an equal but opposite reaction, we tend to wait for a reaction as a consequence to the action we’ve done prior. When Pascal said that love has its own reasons in which reason itself does not understand, well, we don’t try to understand love, we just feel it as we cannot know what reasons it has to take. 

And when P-noy (Pres. Aquino) said that ‘our country has zero remaining balance,’ the majority of the Filipino people would just sit at their own safety and mutter, “oh how pity our destiny is”. The point is that all characters involved in these examples have given their full authority to investigate the world and thus make these to be scientifically approved or if not, our common-sense perspective even tells us that what they say has somehow a trace of truth. They gave us their perception about the world and thus shape our knowledge. But the last example is an exception. When P-noy says that we have the diminishing value of peso and that we lose our economy, most of us bring ourselves to a safe zone where our awareness to such case is highly neglected. I mean we see riots and rallies over television, but they just constitute little fragments of the Filipino people (I don’t intend however to make ourselves rally over the streets). The majority of us blame these leaders for bringing us down, but what do we do when we see them doing the wrong thing? We go with them; we do the same. That is the reason why there is a never-ending quest for development.

Michel Foucault is quite a reformist. He critically sees the development of science in a different perspective. The body, as Foucault calls it, is an ‘automaton’. Being docile, it is subject to repression. The will or man’s rationality can never be taken hold of that is why it is the body that is subjugated and controlled. The body has been the target of penal repression during olden times. But because of the advent of humanization, punishment that is directed to the body disappeared. Humanists posit that we should do away from brutal and vulgar punishment. With the ‘modern rituals’, torture becomes no longer a public spectacle. Also, the disappearance of pain was strongly imposed. Foucault believes that in order to transform the condemned, it must be the soul that must be subjugated. This translates into the very idea of reform. The ‘prison system’ was invented in order to address this concern. But does the state have the legitimacy with regards to dominion and power? Why does the state impose punishment? The state, as the governing body, puts forward the welfare of its citizens. Policies are therefore imposed so that people will submit to authority. And if individuals break the rules, he is then entitled to a certain legal punishment. Punishment, hence, is used in order to make manifest the whole concept of power.

Now, what is the implication of this? The soul is said to be the prison of the body. As it makes possible the existence of the body, it becomes the very factor by which power manifests itself. The basis of knowledge is ‘power relation’. As Foucault claims, epistemology is latent in the society that we have. Knowledge and power directly imply each other. It is power which produces knowledge. There is no power without a correlative constitution of a field of knowledge; nor any knowledge that is not constitutive of power. There is therefore a ‘power-knowledge’ relation. Foucault describes knowledge as being a conjunction of power relations and information-seeking. He states, “It is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge, it is impossible for knowledge not to engender power” (Foucault 1980, 52).

The conventional understanding of knowledge, and particularly scientific knowledge, is that it is shaped by a series of isolated creative geniuses, for example, Newton and Pascal. They are characterized as exceptional people who were able to transcend the conventional ideas of their period and who were able to formulate completely new ideas and theoretical perspectives. Same with corruption, our knowledge of it is what the situation tells us to be as it is. Our knowledge of political corruption is not what the original definition of it signifies. Political corruption means an abuse of public power for private benefit but the way the status quo reacts to it is quite the opposite. Our supposedly reaction to this act is negative but we become blissful the moment the concept of corruption is applied to us. Instead of limiting the definition of corruption to ‘private benefits’, I guess, the private that is already meant here is a ‘public-private’, that is, almost all of us take advantage of things surrounding us by means of corruption.

“Thus, where there are imbalances of power relations between groups of people or between institutions/states, there will be a production of knowledge” (Mills 2003, 69). While there is an overwhelming influence of the wealthy or the authority in our society, then our society is in turn shaped by the very prominence of these people. In the case of election for public office for example, there are of course wealthy politicians who give money or whatever ‘gifts’ it is to the people in return for their support to that certain politician. Then the knowledge that will be produced in our consciousness is that these rich individuals can only run for office because in reality, they are the ones who have the sole capability to bribe, to give gifts to the people. That would then be the measure of these affluent individuals for winning the election.

Then why are all of us accountable to political corruption? Why not the politicians only? Foucault characterizes power/knowledge as an abstract force which determines what will be known, rather than assuming that individual thinkers develop ideas and knowledge. Our generation of knowledge according to Foucault has been based to the authority because for him, the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of [the] fundamental implication of power-knowledge and their historical transformations. In short it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggle that traverse it, and of which it is made up, that determines the form and possible domains of knowledge. (Foucault 1991, 27–28)

Corruption becomes existent because of the power relation that occurs between the politician and the civilian or the agent and the private citizen.

Foucault contends that rather than knowledge being a pure search after ‘truth’, in fact, power functions in that processing of information which results in something being labeled as a ‘fact’. For something to be considered to be a fact, it must be subjected to a thorough process of ratification by those in positions of authority. Such is the case for political corruption where we do not see the clear picture that it implies a long term negative effect to the economic progress of the society. We only see the positive consequence that comes out of it.

Political corruption has become beneficial because of the way we all react to it positively. Our acceptability to corruption is what makes it normative. The politicians shape our conception of corruption. They give us money, and then we become happy. But the thing is when we try to deliberate the long term effect that it brings to us, sure enough that it collapses the value of perseverance and willful determination in our society. It deteriorates the very essence of political corruption as totally defined towards positivity, thus making political corruption beneficial.