Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of the Philippines on the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law

To All People of Good Will:

Peace be with you! With this greeting of peace we as religious leaders share with you our thoughts on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Our Perspective as Religious Leaders

Our first stance is to listen and discern. We will especially listen to those who are directly affected by the BBL, those living in the Bangsamoro, the Muslim majority and non-Muslim minorities. We will listen to those who support the BBL and to those who oppose it. We will listen to those who believe that there has been a lack of consultation. Further, we will listen to those outside the proposed Bangsamoro territory — Muslims, Christians, Indigenous Peoples, peoples of other religious persuasions.
What we receive we shall present to officials concerned.

Our overriding concern is the common good of all Filipinos. We believe that concern for the common good is also that of the negotiating panels, MILF and government. After so many years of grave discussions replete with turns and stops, they have finally reached an agreement which they believe is the basis of a just and lasting peace.

We do not propose any specific political or ideological blueprint for peace. We are not political negotiators or political officials. We are not constitutionalists or lawyers. We refrain from delving into the constitutional issues raised by many. We leave those to constitutional experts to argue and to the Supreme Court to decide.

Our mandate as religious leaders is altogether different. Ours is to proclaim, as Jesus did (Eph. 2:16), “glad tidings of peace.” Our specific concerns are the religious and moral imperatives of peace. That perspective is as always our viewpoint as religious and moral teachers.

Peace is God’s Gift

And this is the most fundamental religious teaching about peace that we share with you. Peace is God’s gift. It is given to those “among whom his favour rests” (see Lk. 2:14). It is “through the tender mercy of God” that we are led to peace by “the dawn from on high” (see Lk. 1:78=79). And Jesus himself said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn. 14:27).

Because peace is God’s gift, we need constantly to pray for peace, the peace that God desires for all of us, the peace that reconciles us with one another, with God, and with all His creation. This is the kind of peace that we wish and pray for when we greet one another: Peace be with you. Salaam. Shalom.

Peace is in and of the Heart, Peace is Harmony

Peace is fundamentally in the heart, of the heart. Peace is harmony. Peace is unity. Peace is reconciliation. Peace is mutual forgiveness among peoples.

A peace agreement may be signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Armed conflicts may cease. But if hatred or desire for revenge or dislike or aversion consumes the heart, if deep historic biases and prejudices remain, the eruption of violent conflict is simply simmering below the surface of apparently peaceful co-existence.

Peace Comes with Justice

Peace is not the fruit of a mere handshake or an embrace. Peace comes with justice. Peace is the assurance of respect for fundamental human dignity and human rights. For the Bangsamoro, justice means the recognition of their centuries-old aspiration for self-determination, their right to chart their own destiny in dignity and freedom. For the whole country justice requires the acceptance of the overarching right of national sovereignty and national territorial integrity. For Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro, justice means respect for and protection of their right to their ancestral domain already officially recognized by the Indigenous Peoples Right Acts (IPRA). For non-Muslim and non-indigenous inhabitants in the Bangsamoro, justice is a recognition and protection of their fundamental human rights, such as religious freedom and property rights. Pope Francis in his message at Malacanang emphasized this when he said: “I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”

Some Concerns of Justice

Some of these rights may be inadequately or inappropriately articulated in the BBL. Many believe, for instance, that a time-free 10% requirement to have a referendum for inclusion into the Bangsamoro will effectively expand the Bangsamoro territory through the years because of the sheer force of population immigration. Others see the need for a clear elaboration of the Bangsamoro exclusive right over education so as not to endanger the nature and purpose of Christian religious educational institutions. Still others are concerned about the ambiguous concept of contiguity by water, and see dangers of a Bangsamoro territory slowly expanding through time.

Many are also disturbed that there is a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation with regard to certain provisions of the BBL, as for instance, the provisions on land. Presently attempts to grab land or drive away their lawful owners by force of arms and even by murder, under the pretext of ancestral domain, are creating fear and tension, among certain communities in the Bangsamoro. The reported rise of shadowy civilian militias for self-protection recalls the tragic past of “Ilagas” and “Blackshirts” in the 1970s. This is totally unproductive and ironic when we understand the BBL as a promise of peace and harmony.

Such concerns we bring to the attention of MILF and government peace negotiators, as well as of legislators who are tasked with refining the draft BBL.

Peace Comes with Fairness and Equity

We all desire that the provisions of the BBL express fairness and equity. For this reason we hope that the BBL will ensure equal opportunity for integral human development for all the peoples in the Bangsamoro. We desire a BBL that will respect various cultures, religious beliefs and traditions. We wish to be assured that the BBL will provide equal access to educational, economic, political benefits and resources.

It would be a travesty of fairness and equity if, for instance, jobs are denied to capable persons simply because of ethnic, cultural, religious or gender considerations. Discrimination would be a direct contradiction to the fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination that responds to deep feelings of neglect and marginalization.

Peace is Unity through Dialogue

Isaiah the Prophet spoke of a messianic time when the Word of the Lord shall come to the people. “They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is. 2:4).

We are at the cusp of a new Mindanao history when arms of destruction are replaced by productive tools for human development, when men trained for war are trained for wise and prudent governance. In some countries innocent civilians are persecuted or even killed, their homes devastated, places of worship destroyed. May this not be so in our country.

We, therefore, commend the consensus decision of both negotiating sides for the decommissioning of military forces and arms. We also pray that the form of government in the Bangsamoro will unite the different cultures together for the common good. We appeal to emerging political parties that they effectively remove the neglect and isolation of the poor from decision-making and make them active partners for their integral development. We ask legislators to ensure that the provisions of the BBL as well as their implementation will be forces of solidarity and not of division.

We make a special appeal to all sectors, groups, and political movements of the Bangsamoro to come together in dialogue towards a consensus position on the BBL.

Dialogue is the way to peace, not the use of arms. This has been the experience of successive negotiating panels on both the MILF side and the government’s. From hostility to openness, from aggressive one-sidedness to mutual respect and understanding, from contestation to trust and friendship – this is the road of authentic dialogue. When the encounter of persons from opposite sides is authentically human, it is the Spirit of the Lord that draws them together finally as friends. And friendship is an expression of love — “the common word” for Muslims Christians, and peoples of other religions.

Final Pastoral Observations and Recommendations

In the light of the above moral and religious considerations:

  1. We commend the perseverance of the negotiating panels of both the government and the MILF that, even with changes of key personnel through the years, persevered in the peace process, changing the nature of tense and troubled negotiations into trustful dialogue for peace.
  2. We commend the realism of the MILF vision to dialogue towards self-determination while respecting and preserving national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  3. We appeal to Congress to sift objectively and wisely through the results of their Mindanao-wide consultation and ensure that the fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination be effectively enshrined in the final BBL, together with the twin national principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  4. We strongly recommend that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the non-Muslim peoples in the Bangsamoro – Christians, peoples of other faiths, and Indigenous peoples — be respected and promoted as already enshrined in existing laws, such as property rights and the IP ancestral domain.
  5. We recommend the inclusion of a provision in the BBL that would make it impossible in the future for any radical extremist group to exploit or change the democratic framework of the Bangsamoro government so as to deny both the doctrine and practice of religious freedom.
  6. We pray to our Lord God for wisdom for our legislators so that they would keep in mind the good of the Bangsamoro and the common good of all Filipinos.

Conclusion

We believe that regarding the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao we are, with a significantly improved BBL, truly at the threshold of a just and lasting peace.

We place our concerns of peace in the hands of our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, so that through her maternal intercession her Son, Jesus who is himself our “Peace” (Eph. 2: 14), may always be with us “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

For and on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

January 22, 2015

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