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Reach and limits of Sharia

/ 05:05 AM September 04, 2018

Cagayan de Oro–Ongoing since Sunday is a workshop called “Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL): Preparing for Plebiscite, Reaching Out to Mainstream Media, Building Relationships Between CSO’s and Media.”

That mouthful really has quite a simple premise: to prepare civil society groups supportive of the passage of the BOL to reach out to the media, local or national, to win popular support for this historic passage in the nation’s history.

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The BOL marks, it is hoped, a true and final end to decades (maybe even centuries) of conflict between Moro liberation forces and the government forces, mainly the military and police. But the ceasefire is only the most obvious part of the entire historical task of reshaping the relationship between our Moro brothers and sisters and the Christian majority.

Though often overlooked in media reports, the passage by Congress and signing by the President of the BOL marks a turning point in the Moro people’s search not just for autonomy, but also for political identity. It is a recognition of the uniqueness and integrity of Moro society and culture, which nonetheless forms a crucial part of Filipino identity, even if, as a minority, the Moro people have been overlooked, demeaned and marginalized.

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But meeting participants in this workshop, most of them representatives of
Moro civil society groups, most of them women, gives one the sense that, truly, a new generation of Moro leaders is giving a new “spin” to the Moros’ historical search for a “separate but equal” status in our country’s political system.

To be sure, so much still remains up in the air, even as the date for the plebiscite nears. Questions about the sharing of natural resources, the sharing of powers between the national government and the soon-to-be-created Bangsamoro entity, the melding of Moro traditional law and cultural practices within the legal system—all these have to be threshed out in finer detail. So much depends on the new laws and policies to be decided by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and eventually the Bangsamoro council and parliament.

One of the more contentious issues, at least from the point of view of Manila-based commentators, is the coverage of Sharia—the Islamic-based legal code that has been in place for centuries in Muslim-dominated countries.

In the Philippines, because of a law signed by the late president Marcos, Sharia is confined to Filipino-Muslims and covers mostly personal and family relations. Fears have been expressed that the rights of women under Sharia will be severely curtailed in the Bangsamoro.

The discussion on Sharia fomented the most heat and interest during the discussion of the salient parts of the BOL. Lead discussant was lawyer Anna Tarhata Basman, who used to serve as a legal adviser to the government peace panel during the Aquino administration. And she was, for the most part, reassuring on the reach and limits of Sharia.

Women from across the Bangsamoro areas expressed reservations about how the new entity would treat women. “In our communities,” said one, “disputes, including those on violence against women, are settled internally, between families. Our communities have little access to the Sharia courts.”

Basman assured that Sharia covers only crimes punishable by a maximum of imprisonment of 30 days. More serious crimes, such as rape and violence against women, would fall under the regular courts. And, indeed, the Sharia legal system is severely hampered by the lack of qualified judges (the Supreme Court now requires all Sharia court judges to pass the Bar) and the absence of facilities.

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To better “sell” the passage of the BOL in the areas covered (in some provinces, the approval even of non-Muslim voters is required), supporters must convince the public that the “new order” will redound to the benefit of all. The end of armed conflict is but the start of the entire rebuilding effort, not just the infrastructure of a new economic and legal system, but especially the strengthening of the system of protection for the most vulnerable, the women and children.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Organic Law, BOL, Editorial, Moro, news, opinion, Sharia
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