Journey to peace at a crossroads with BOL plebiscite

By Rey-Luis Banagudos

January 14, 2019, 1:42 pm

ZAMBOANGA CITY — In an impliedly pivotal endorsement of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) by the National Ulama Council of the Philippines (NUCP), it appealed to the electorate to ratify the measure “in the name of peace, development and justice for all.”

The NUCP, through its Ulama members and affiliated Islamic organizations, said it shall participate in the information drive for a better understanding of the BOL, and in campaigning for its eventual acceptance by our people.

This appeal, it said, amounts to a religious duty, an exhortation to achieve the “Islamic liberation” that enlivens the fundamental vision of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Where MILF’s erstwhile fight for Moro independence was a major jihad, the present alternative struggle for peaceful reform and development equals to a minor jihad in accord with Islam orthodoxy.

In his message to a pro-BOL ratification rally earlier, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim quoted the words of Front founder Hashim Salamat when he said: “I have planted the seed of Jihad fiy Sabilillah in the minds and hearts of young generations.”

“I encourage everyone, let us walk together for the next level of this struggle, Inshaa Allah,” he added.

“Whence Islam directs all Muslims’ practical affairs as bridge to afterlife, the Quran (32:19) exhorts: “As for those who believed and did righteous deeds, for them will be the Gardens of Refuge as accommodation for what they used to do.”

The plebiscite to ratify the BOL is set for January 21 for areas listed in it, and on February 6 for those which later applied for inclusion in the envisioned Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The Supreme Court has denied the merged petitions for temporary restraining order (TRO) against the BOL plebiscite filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the provincial governor of Sulu, clearing the entire way for the holding of the historic vote.

So far, the Commission on Elections has approved 48 more petitions of non-BOL listed barangays for participation in the second-date plebiscite.

The MILF and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) who brokered the enactment of BOL by Congress are all but certain that the basic law will be ratified.

However, they are not celebrating yet since two cities — Isabela in Basilan Province and Cotabato City in Maguindanao — considered as politically important, have voted against inclusion in two past plebiscites and currently still show no signs of change of heart.

Last Dec. 27, no less than Murad and MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, together with Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato City and ARMM Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman blitzed Isabela City with an interfaith rally to inform the attending thousands of ambivalent local residents why BOL is good for them this time around.

During the rally, Hataman, who is a native of Basilan, noted that “rumors like the destruction of crosses, closure of churches, banning of pork and enforcing the use of hijab among women had spread across” residents of Isabela, which is the administrative capital of Basilan.

The rally aimed to debunk this misinformation, he told his province-mates.

“In Sumisip (town) we have two barangays dominated by Christians — they have piggeries there, they have churches there and people enjoy religious freedom,” Hataman said.

Quevedo cautiously said the huge attendance is a hopeful indication that Isabelenos are this time open-minded towards the BOL.

Galvez, for his part, said “the dealings between the military and the MILF in Basilan, became warmer and cozier than at any time in the past” after the Malaysian-brokered Bangsamoro peace deal was signed in 2014.

Galvez, who served as Army brigade commander in the province, said they have “firmly re-established all the peace mechanisms to ensure long-term peace on the ground” through the peace process.

“Now I am standing here as a brother of peace, making sure the peace agreement is well implemented -- starting with the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law”, he told the multi-cultural audience.

“The BOL is the culmination of our efforts to give our Moro brothers and sisters the opportunity to take ownership of the landmark measure and finally achieve our dream of genuine and meaningful self-governance. More importantly, the law gives due recognition to the identity of all residents living within the Bangsamoro territory. So, whether you are a Moro, Christian, or Lumad, rest assured that your rights and welfare will be protected,” he told the Christian majority Isabelenos.

Unlike the week-later BOL-enthusiastic rallies in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, its top-level campaigners had harder sales-talk to make in Isabela City.

It fell on Quevedo to assure his fellow Isabela Christians about the beneficence of BOL. He then pointed to BOL provisions on basic rights (Article IX) such as:

* The Parliament shall adopt measures to ensure mutual respect and protection of the distinct beliefs, customs and traditions of the Bangsamoro people and the other inhabitants in the BAR.

* No person shall be subjected to any form of discrimination on account of creed, religion, ethnic origin, parentage or gender.

* Religious Freedom — “any establishment and any institution is free to implement policies and undertake activities pursuant to their respective religious beliefs and values.”

* Human Rights — “The Bangsamoro Government shall fully respect human rights.”

A few days later in the Bongao, Tawi-Tawi rally, Mohagher Iqbal said some 160,000 people “have died during the course of the Moro struggle, and it is about time to end this cycle of violence.”

“We are already seeing the light at end of the tunnel. It’s not just flickering light but a very clear light”, he said.

It was Iqbal, as MILF head negotiator, who signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) with Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen signing on behalf of the Philippine government in 2012 in Malaysia, ending 17 years of roller coaster peace talks.

FAB set down the broad but comprehensive terms of deal.

After two more years of threshing out the deal’s specifics, Iqbal and the new government chief negotiator, Miriam Coronel Ferrer, together with their panels’ members, signed the final Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in formal ceremony in Malacanang attended by representatives of foreign countries.

CAB consolidated as well all previous agreements including FAB itself, which among others stipulated the enactment of a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by Congress.

Four more years passed before that law, now renamed as the BOL, was finally enacted in 2018.

On Jan. 21, the BOL will be affirmed— barring a mishap — through the plebiscite by Muslim Mindanao region’s populace.

From that crossroads of history, the Bangsamoro people and their leaders inevitably must overcome more challenges in their phenomenal journey to peace, justice and development.

As what has been observed, it is easier to clinch a peace agreement than to implement it, as shown in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

In a policy brief, the Cotabato City-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) earmarked some of those challenges, such as the immediate creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority – which will function for only three years - and the extent of its powers and responsibilities as mandated by the BOL as well as the absolute need for civil society cooperation in establishing the new government’s institutions such as its political and electoral systems.

“The collective hope for the BOL is that it comes with a clear path to peace and development in Muslim Mindanao. And as demonstrated in this policy brief, this path entails the massive redesigning of the regional autonomy framework. First by vesting in the regional government substantial political and fiscal authority. Second, and more importantly, by instituting mechanisms to encourage the genuine engagement of the Bangsamoro community in the governance of the region,” the IAG said.

“MILF Chairman, Murad Ebrahim, is absolutely correct that governing the region will be a tremendous challenge for the new leaders of the Bangsamoro government,” IAG predicts. (PNA)