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).

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