Is martial law truth commission possible?
Davao City — Amid COVID-19 restrictions and apprehensions, a volunteer group of advocates, the Independent Working Group on Transitional Justice–Dealing with the Past (IWG TJDwP) successfully conducted the last phase of the series of orientation workshops on transitional justice for the members of parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. After two days, the workshop ended on a high and positive note last Dec. 18, with participants drafting their action plans on how to operationalize transitional justice (TJ) in their respective areas of responsibility. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, a New York City-based non-government organization working for transitional justice in many parts of the world, transitional justice refers to “the ways countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression address large-scale or systematic human rights violations so numerous and so serious that the normal justice system will not be able to provide an adequate response.” Putting it figuratively, transitional justice is like crossing a bridge from an area with a dark and violent past toward a place that provides an enabling environment for a brighter and peaceful future. Such a journey is fraught with attendant risks and pitfalls, with metaphorical roadblocks and barriers along the way.
Prior to the lockdown due to COVID-19 starting in the second half of March 2020, the IWG TJDwP conducted a national-level orientation workshop with representatives of key government agencies included in the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization (ICCMN) that was created through Executive Order No. 79, signed by President Duterte on April 24, 2019. The EO is mainly aimed at implementing the provisions in the annex on normalization of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Under Section 7, on Aspects of Normalization, the ICCMN is tasked to lead the implementation of the recommendations made by the Transitional Justice Reconciliation Commission through its reports that it presented to the Philippine national government in 2016 and 2017. To do these, a TJR unit was created at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which is the lead government agency of the ICCMN. Under this mandate, the ICCMN and TJR unit will look into initiatives that will address legitimate grievances, historical injustices, human rights violations, and marginalization through land dispossession among the Bangsamoro.
All these are laudable historical milestones in the journey toward achieving transitional justice for the communities that heavily suffered from the massive atrocities committed by state agents—the military and the national police—during the Marcos martial law years. Among these are emblematic cases of massive human rights violations like massacres, gender-based violence (rapes and bodily mutilation, among others). Details of these incidents as narrated by survivors and their families through the Listening Process conducted in 211 conflict-affected communities in Mindanao can be accessed online from its website, www.tjrc.com.
But to start the difficult journey of crossing the bridge toward a peaceful and just future in the Bangsamoro, there needs to be a mechanism for knowing the truth about all the atrocities committed, who were responsible or accountable for such acts, and how all these can be addressed through a TJR project. In other words, we need to have a legislated truth and reconciliation commission—a TRC—to uncover painful truths about the past. Reconciliation can only happen when the forensic, impartial, and objective truths about past atrocities are brought out in the open, to identify who are accountable, and how the aggrieved parties can be satisfied through a well-thought-out, rational, and judicious justice and reparation program. This process can start with an acknowledgment from perpetrators or their present representatives on the commission of such atrocities.
However, given the current national leadership’s “allergy” about ferreting out the truth on human rights violations through the spate of extrajudicial killings associated with its war on drugs, will the creation of a truth commission on past atrocities be possible?
Comments to [email protected]
Your daily dose of fearless views
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.