Advancing the transitional justice agenda (1)
In 2016, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) presented a four-volume report to the peace panels of both the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The report was based on various studies that the TJRC conducted as part of its mandate.
To recall, both panels signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the final peace accord between the MILF and GPH that ended more than three decades of armed strife in many parts of the now Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The TJRC was created as part of the Normalization Annex of the CAB, and supported through an agreement with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The results of the studies were to be used as basis for crafting mechanisms for transitional justice, healing, and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro. The studies focused on four main issues concerning Bangsamoro peoples in the autonomous region: 1) legitimate grievances; 2) historical injustices; 3) human rights violations; and 4) marginalization through land dispossession.
Transitional justice has four pillars: the right to know the truth; the right to justice; the right to reparations; and the guarantee of non-repetition or non-recurrence of massive atrocities.
Based on TJRC’s studies, one of the main recommendations is the establishment of a national transitional justice mechanism, to be called the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission for the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB).
The Philippine government is still to pass a law that will create the NTJRCB, although House Bill No. 5669, authored mainly by Quezon City Rep. Christopher “Kit” Belmonte, was already adopted by the House of Representatives special committee on peace, reconciliation and unity in September 2018. It was re-filed in August 2019 as HB 4003, and co-authored by Anak Mindanao Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan.
In April 2019, President Duterte signed Executive Order 79, s. 2019 (Implementing the Annex on Normalization under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro). As its title suggests, it focused on details that operationalize the normalization process as stipulated in the 2014 CAB. The EO contains only two sections that mention transitional justice and reconciliation. It does not specify how a TJR mechanism should proceed to make it a reality in Bangsamoro and in other conflict-affected areas in the country.
To complement the above measures, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) in the BARMM has also passed Resolution 56 that calls on the national government to create the NTJRCB and to implement a transitional justice and reconciliation program in the Bangsamoro. In another measure (Resolution 58), the BTA also called for the creation of a TJRC in the BARMM.
Why is the agenda for transitional justice, reconciliation, and healing important to consider in next year’s national elections?
Transitional justice aims at helping societies that experienced massive atrocities in the past, like massacres and other serious human rights violations, to move toward a future marked by the rule of law, conflict transformation, and the absence of impunity in order to pave the way toward a more peaceful, brighter future. Transitional justice mechanisms like the proposed NTJRCB can provide opportunities for victims, their survivors, and perpetrators alike to heal the wounds of the past and move toward a society living peacefully together in harmony and in reconciliation.
Certainly all these are quite daunting to do, to say the least, given the deep-seated animosities that have been generated from decades of violent conflict. Moreover, with the national coffers severely bled dry as a consequence of the government’s COVID-19 response, creating transitional justice mechanisms might be sidelined by the incoming administration.
More importantly, given the frontliners in the race for the presidential and other national government posts for next year’s elections, a TJR agenda might be anathema to their greedy political ambitions—another reason to relegate it to the peripheries of national political decision making. (To be continued.)
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