In Solidarity: Cardinal Quevedo: Bangsamoro Is The Kingdom of God

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will return to the arena of public debate front and center when the Lower House resumes its plenary deliberations and Senate as expected will start its own all by this week.

The bill’s sponsors led by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez are optimistic it will gain final House approval within their just-opened 3rd and final session.  However, there is palpable lack of a sense of urgency on the part of House speaker Sonny Belmonte and Senate president Franklin Drilon based on their recent statements. Moreover, the current delay in the submission by Sen. Marcos of his local government committee’s version of the BBL to the Senate president will further set back Senate’s plenary work on the bill.

Sen. Marcos has been displaying a recalcitrant if not hostile stand towards BBL despite his media double-speaking about it, indulged by at least two of his young co-senators. Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles in her address to some 50 Mindanao and Manila journalists attending the 2-day “Beyond Mamasapano: Reporting the Bangsamoro Peace Process” consultative conference in Cotabato City two weekends ago said BBL has fallen into the clutches of congressional politicking and, hence, she no longer knows when the high-priority bill will be passed.

          In the same meeting with the press, Cotabato archbishop  Cardinal Orlando Quevedo likened the journalists’ work to the Christian vocation of building the “kingdom of God” as they go about accomplishing their daily earthly life and its chores.  “I believe that you, dear media practitioners, have more than a profession”, he said. “You have a vocation. You are agents for the communication of truth, justice, peace and love. These are the truly human values that serve as the pillars of society. You communicate to others the fundamental values of God’s Reign.” In effect, the envisioned Bangsamoro society to be built through BBL, or is already being built under the interim Comprehensive Agreement  on the Bangsamoro (CAB), is an inseparable part of God’s reign – God’s kingdom being eternally created here on earth. It is a universal (i.e., catholic) reality not to be discriminated apart or demarcated by geography, religion, politics, race or other compartmentalizations, and instead actualized by and rejoiced in the pursuit of those values of love, justice, truth and peace. This is the moral challenge of Cardinal Quevedo to journalists, that by telling the truth in their news reports and commentaries they precipitate God’s rain to fall on the just and unjust alike.

        On the second day of the post-Mamasapano media re-orientation, Cardinal Quevedo moderated a dialogue between them and MILF chief Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim in the latter’s Camp Darapanan. With his favorite grand-daughter sitting on his lap, Murad expressed anew his hope that Congress will pass the BBL in a version that shall be faithful to the CAB’s letter and spirit, and during the remaining months of President Aquino’s term.  As it is, though, the BBL is facing serious hurdles in Congress. For any number of reasons, this 16th Congress may already be floundering and lost in the vastness of the BBL sea. Either way, President Aquino has a tough but not impossible job to steer them back to the port of destination, the destiny of Mindanao, while he still holds the helms of government. 

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IN SOLIDARITY: Back to Basics, Integrally

Last month, Pope Francis issued his first own-authored papal encyclical titled as “Laudato Si” (Praise Be), much-awaited as not only a Roman Catholic but a global response to overcome the huge problem of a looming climate apocalypse. The encyclical basically called for solidarity and dialogue among peoples, nations, sectors and institutions to reform mindsets, cultures and systems that are behind the causes and effects of environmental destruction – excessive use of fossil fuels, throwaway consumerism, economic and moral poverty, exploitative businesses, communal conflicts, perversion of technologies, and so forth.

Many perceive the encyclical as the Pope’s special message to the global summit on environment to be held in France in September. However, the track record of such international get-togethers is abysmal, the world ecology has continued to deteriorate despite all the manifestos and resolutions from these conferences of the past decades. Each of the participating nations and organizations has priorities other and more urgent than saving the world.

The integrative approach that the encyclical calls for is probably what is new or novel, and offers new hope for a real resolution of those environmental and human ecological problems at the local more than – or before – the national or international levels. As with many other system-wide problems, a one-size-fits all formula like curbing carbon emissions or, for that matter, interreligious activism to curb terrorism does not suffice. Every place has its unique configuration of problems that requires its equivalent and often basic solutions.

Zamboanga City, for one, has its own unique set of problems related to ecology, internal defense and security, economic development, inter-cultural relationships, governance, and so on that are in the diagnosis of the Pope’s encyclical are integrally connected and inter-active. For one, the city’s and Mindanao’s active and potential terrorism threats are quite different from that of the ISIS in the Middle East or Europe’s migration-borne.

Hence, local initiatives in the spirit of solidarity towards collective long-term survival is a formula that is at the heart of the papal encyclical. In a place like Zamboanga straining with so much social conflict and division, starting such an honest to goodness process going poses a formidable challenge. That Christian churches and Muslim communities are traditionally structured to be operationally autonomous points to where and how the solidarity, problem-solving initiatives can or may begin. To quote a cliché, think global but act local.

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In Solidarity: A CSO Opens a New Approach to Tackle Zamboanga’s Security Woes

What business does a civil society organization have to dip its fingers in the inherently complex, usually frustrating but definitely challenging endeavor of communal security and crime-fighting?

If that do-gooder exists in a turbulent city like Zamboanga, the imperatives are overwhelming: the jails are overflowing with illegal drug pushers and users, several thousand remain displaced by a recent war from their homes and communities contributing to social cancer and criminalities in the streets, a large number of loose firearms lead to frequent homicides and murders many of which are unsolved, anyone can get kidnapped in a flash, and the public discourse about the Bangsamoro peace process are fast, loose and dangerously emotional rather than rational.

          In the face of such unbearable state of being, the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance, Inc. (ZABIDA) invited the local police and military authorities to a meeting held last Tuesday, June 16, to explore the feasibility of initiating a forum for continuing consultation and the setting of tactical responses to emerging security and peace problems and issues. The police regional office and city directorate and Western Mindanao Command-AFP and Task Force Zamboanga sent representatives to the meeting, which was also attended by members of the Golden Crescent Consortium of Peace-Builders and Affiliates led by Prof. Ali Yacub, Al Haj.

          ZABIDA president Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF opened the meeting by reiterating the fact that the NGO has been a regional convenor of the AFP’s Integrated Peace and Security Program (IPSP) through its leadership role in the work of IPSP’s Bantay Bayanihan security reform and monitoring component.  Through its consortium partner Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), ZABIDA is also doing intensive projects in peace advocacy including the Mindanao peace process, good governance and other related peace-building. PAZ serves as the secretariat of the years-old Interreligious Solidarity for Peace (ISP), which is into communal peace-making through interfaith action.

          Fr. Calvo explained that over and above the problems of drug-related crimes and other law and order challenges, the forum will seek to address the need for well-rounded human security of displaced and neglected families.  ZABIDA has been helping the 2013 war victims through several projects and activities. The attack is also symptomatic of the critical role of the city in the complicated and far-ranging Bangsamoro peace process.

          The police and military participants discussed what their respective units are doing to fight crime and protect the city, which has been continuously under a red alert status for almost two years running. The police said crime-fighting is hindered by a lack of cooperation on the part of civilians.

          Fr. Calvo pointed out that the normalization program under the GPH-MILF peace agreement will have a major effect on the city, partly because the program’s demobilization will also depend on the reduction of armed threats in the region, such as that which springs from the situation of loose firearms. The grievance of city residents caused by the violence of the war should also be in the agenda of the restorative justice that forms one of the agreement’s normalization plans, Fr. Calvo said. Also, the city being the regional business hub will play an important gateway role in the fast-approaching ASEAN economic market integration starting next year. But geographically lying between the city and its nearest ASEAN neighbors of Indonesia and Malaysia are the Bangsamoro provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The city would miss the integration’s full windfall if it continues to be ambivalent and distrustful towards the peace process. Moreover, Dr. Grace Rebollos pointed out that the ASEAN integration will make the city not only easily accessible to tariffless imports of commercial goods but also to people who may include agents of violence. That surely will add another security threat to the city.

          The confreres agreed to establish the forum through the necessary memoranda of agreement.  The forum is also seen to eventually link up with other bodies and agencies that directly do peace and security jobs.

          “We are not messiahs”, Dr. Rebollos remarked during the meeting. But, beloved Gotham City here we come. (ZABIDA)

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A “Revolution from the South”

This week in May, the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would vote on its version of the proposed organic act, a crucial step that will determine whether the legislation will retain the most important of its original contents or instead a diluted concoction of autonomy. During this same week, the Senate’s Committee on Local Government chaired by Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. will hold public hearings on the BBL in Zamboanga City and Jolo. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the left-side proponent of the peace-making bill has urged Bongbong to atone for the offenses of his father, ex-Pres. Marcos, to the Moro people by finally submitting his edited BBL version that would be faithful to its original, as prepared last year by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). The sins of the fathers have long shadows it is said, but if Bongbong will accede to the MILF’s appeal it would probably be one where he heeds the urgent call of the nation, too.

For one, the pro-BBL sentiment is led by the Christian majority of Mindanao, which is somewhat strange because having suffered the harshest brunt of the Moro rebellion, they would instead be expected to demand an eye-for-an-eye retribution. Yet here are these Christians like Cardinal Quevedo extending the hand of reconciliation to their Muslim Mindanaoan compatriots, to let the dead bury the dead, and to move on. Indeed, a large percentage of Filipinos nurture a favourable perception towards Islam, according to the latest Social Weather Station survey, a fact which should inspire those who are seriously engaged in interfaith peace-building in Mindanao to continue with their long and hard mission.

On the other hand, the National Peace Council (NPC), which Pres. Aquino created and tasked to conduct public multi-sectoral consultations on the BBL, has in its final report also favorably endorsed it. Its most significant observations are the need for a liberal application of the Constitution by Congress when refining BBL and to grant maximum fiscal autonomy to the Bangsamoro government. The absence of fiscal autonomy in the present and outgoing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) made it politically impotent, a “failed experiment.” Without money and the power to spend it howsoever, the Bangsamoro entity will be another mendicant caricature of autonomy, and beggars can never ever be choosers.

If a full-strength BBL shall pass, as it must by the standard of peace-making for Mindanao, it shall moreover be a milestone in the changing landscape of the nation. It will not only liberate the Moros from the lingering oppressions of erstwhile foreign colonialism but also from its native descendant elitist regime and its endless depredations. Political iconoclast and Mindanao son Rodrigo Duterte has been railing against Manila imperialism as reason enough for Mindanao to freak out and become a self-governing federal state. On the other hand, the mounting requirements for economic viability and growth, for escape from massive poverty, is also driving the nation towards an era of political liberalization to release more of the people’s energy.

By championing the BBL and the political sea-change it could bring forth in southern Philippines, Pres. Aquino is opening the floodgates of the nation’s new future, of a really New Society that Bongbong’s father once upon bandied before a nation shackled by his Martial Law. It was to be, according to his once middle-class father, a “revolution from the center”. As a study in personal contrast of political leaders contesting to make history, it could take the son of an oligarch class that Bongbong’s father wanted to destroy, Pres. Aquino, to finally make the same revolution happen, but one which is a “revolution from the south”. Even the Armed Forces of the Philippines have come out of its trenches to raise the banner of the BBL. (ZABIDA)

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