It’s all over but the shouting. But is the Bangsamoro Basic Law really “dead,” as newspaper headlines put it?
Not if various peace groups and Bangsamoro supporters have their way. Gathered last Feb. 1 for one of the last plenary sessions of the House of Representatives (Congress is now on extended recess to allow the members to campaign), peace advocates decried Congress’ inaction on the draft BBL law.
They held a “silent protest” in the House plenary hall, wearing T-shirts that decried Congress’ failure to push for passage of the draft law. “Palpak” (failure) was the word used to describe the legislators. In the months and weeks leading to the recess, despite calls by leaders of the House and the Senate and the urging of Malacañang and of the bill’s supporters, legislators chose to skip the proceedings, jump-starting their campaigns even before the official start of the campaign period.
But despite the indifference displayed by lawmakers, the bill’s supporters declare: “Peace lives beyond the 16th Congress’s failure.”
Different networks of civil society organizations issued a statement that decried the failure of Congress to act with dispatch on the drive to enact a BBL. “We watched with disgust as the House members slaughtered what has been put together all these years to acknowledge the rights of our brothers and sisters, Moro and non-Moro Filipinos in the Bangsamoro,” they said.
Despite the promises made by a number of legislators to support the bill, the groups said, once the campaign fever struck, the majority did not even bother to show up for deliberations. “We therefore conclude that the 16th Congress is a failure for the BBL.”
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But even in the face of congressional inaction—and indeed, even the mangling of the proposed BBL—the groups said they would remain steadfast in their advocacy.
“We continue to push for peace for the Bangsamoro and to be instruments of genuine social change,” they said in their statement, “so that every member of society will be recognized and the rights of every member of the Bangsamoro are respected: their rights to education, employment, access to basic social services, and to live in a safe and peaceful community away from aggression and armed conflict; for all to be part of this one country where the citizens of the Bangsamoro can feel that they are part of the Philippines, at par with the rest of the country.”
The groups present at the activity included the Alliance of Bangsamoro Organizations for Peace and Development; ALL OUT PEACE!; Al Mujadila Development Foundation; Balay Rehabilitation Center; BAWGBUG Advocates for Peace and Human Rights; Center for Peace Education; Community Organizers’ Multiversity; Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society; Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute; Generation Peace Youth Network (GenPeace);
International Initiatives for Dialogue; Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus; Mindanao Solidarity Network; National Anti-Poverty Commission NGO Sectoral Council; Nisa Ul Haqq fi Bangsamoro; People’s Alternative Study Center for Research in Education and Social Development; Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.; Pilipina-Ang Kilusan ng Kababaihang Pilipino; Tarbilang Foundation; United Youth for Peace and Development; United Youth of the Philippines-Women; Urban Poor Associates; Women Engaged in Action on UNSCR 1325 (WE-Act); and Women’s Peace Collective.
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Supporters of the proposed BBL in the House, notably those hailing from the Bangsamoro areas, were more emotional, and indeed personal, in their reactions to the disappointing development.
“What shall I tell my people when I go back to my homeland?” asked Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong in the closing days of the BBL debates. “How can I convince them to remain steadfast to peace without the BBL? How can thousands of combatants return to normal life without the basic law that would legalize the establishment and recognition of the Bangsamoro?”
Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin put into words the sentiments and lingering resentments of the Bangsamoro people: “We were told, countless times, in different ways and gestures and words, [that] we cannot be trusted. Every provision of the law was suspected to be geared toward something else. When Mamasapano happened, we were blamed for a violence right inside our home. We were told, we cannot be trusted, we are not sincere, we are terrorists. Thus, we do not deserve what we ask for, what was promised to us, what was agreed upon. May nagsabi pa pong senador, bakit ba ibinibigay ng gobyerno lahat nang gusto nitong mga Moro? At nagmamadali pa?” (A senator even asked, why is the government giving everything the Moros want? And they’re even rushing us?)
At this point, given the disappointment, frustration and maybe even desperation that supporters of the BBL, especially all who are part of the Bangsamoro, must be feeling, it’s essential that everyone, as the saying goes, keep their eyes on the prize.
The prize, after all, is a just and lasting peace in Mindanao and in all other places in the country beleaguered by violence and conflict. Our legislators may have failed us, but keeping the faith is as much a test of endurance and trust as it is of faith in the future.
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Correction. Christopher Elias, whose speech at the opening plenary of the International Conference on Family Planning and remarks at a roundtable for Asian media I quoted in a column last Wednesday, is not connected to the Gates Institute at Johns Hopkins University. He is instead the president of the Global Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Apologies to everyone, but especially to Elias, for the confusion.
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