DESPITE a short working period, the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) was able to submit the 2017 Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to President Rodrigo Duterte last July 17.
This document is the key political measure in the implementation of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). In his response, the President promised that “within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country.”
Earlier, Peace Implementing Panels were created in August 2016 by the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to ensure “efficient and effective implementation through joint and cooperative endeavors of the CAB and other agreements that may be signed by the Parties.” Since then, the Implementing Panels and the rest of the mechanisms have been carrying out the CAB provisions, particularly normalization.
Government has also been engaging the Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a Final Peace Agreement with the Philippine Government in 1996.
Through these demonstrations of continuing commitment to the Bangsamoro peace processes, has the Duterte administration done enough to pursue transitional justice, which is part of the Annex on Normalization of the Bangsamoro Agreement?
Transitional justice, also referred to as “dealing with the past” or TJ, is not a special form of justice. According to the United Nations, it is “justice adapted to the often unique conditions of societies undergoing transformation away from a time when human rights abuse may have been a normal state of affairs.”
The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), created by virtue of the Annex on Normalization, submitted a report to the Philippine Government and the MILF in 2016 after being tasked to study the problems of historical injustice, human rights violations, legitimate grievance, and marginalization through land dispossession.
The TJRC concluded that these four problems of the Bangsamoro were due to three interlocking phenomena: violence, impunity and neglect. These three phenomena were in turn rooted on what the TJRC saw was a fundamental cause: “the imposition of a monolithic State and Filipino identity by force on multiple ethnic groups in Mindanao and Sulu that saw themselves as already pre-existing nations and nations-states.”
For these reasons, the Bangsamoro, which can be said to be shifting from a long period of systematized abuse, is one that is “TJ-able.”
The TJRC analysis elaborated on what President Duterte has mentioned in various national and international arena: the historical injustice done to the peoples of Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines.
The TJRC report was capped with recommendations based on the premise that what was once viewed as the “Bangsamoro problem” could become the Bangsamoro and the Philippine opportunity to show that diversity is our resource, that spaces exist for political debates and the non-violent management and resolution of differences, and that together we can deal with security and other contemporary challenges.
The TJRC endorsed a national mechanism for TJ on the Bangsamoro, and specific measures for the rights to know, justice, reparations, and the guarantee of non-recurrence pursuing, which are internationally recognized as essentials for dealing with massive human rights abuses and impunity.
TJRC went on to argue that transitional justice has bearings on the future, warning that unaddressed problems could serve as incubators for further violence, and threaten the durability of peace processes.
Other than recognizing that the recommendations are part of the details of the government’s Six-Point Peace and Development Agenda, there has been little progress on official actions on the TJRC Report.
The Marawi crisis, which by July 22 would be on its 60th day, is a compelling argument for more systematic work to deal with a past that is still very much part of our present.
The prevailing mainstream view is that the Islamic State through the Dawla Islamiyyah in collaboration with the Hapilon wing of the Abu Sayyaf is looking to establish a caliphate in Mindanao, thus the attacks in Marawi and other places.
But the complexities that underpin the violence in Marawi are not adequately acknowledged. These include problems related to poor dispensation of justice, and bad governance at many levels that made groups like the Dawla compelling alternatives, and a culture of guns and self-protection a practical one among citizens; the confluence of interests among political warlords, and those engaged in illegal activities such as drugs; and growing frustration with the twists and turns in the peace processes, among others.
Ironically, the effects of the proclamation of martial law, prolonged security operations that included airstrikes, and allegations of abuses in the past 59 days such as looting, arson, summary executions, and discrimination are more pronounced now for those displaced by the Marawi crisis, than the mass terror initially sowed by the Dawla.
A transitional justice-oriented approach will also help in the recovery of Marawi.
The country, but most of all the people of Marawi and adjoining places, need to know the truths of and behind the crisis—and it will be plural despite efforts to reduce it to one reasoning. The victims and the survivors deserve to be named and recognized. To restore confidence in the system, justice has to be meted out to those who committed abuses, both from State and non-State forces alike. Reparation will have to take on both material and symbolic forms, at the levels of the individuals, families, and communities affected, and also society.
Finally, responsibility for ensuring that another crisis like Marawi will not recur does not rest solely with government and the security sector. Together, Maranaos, the rest of the Bangsamoro, Mindanawons and Filipinos will have to find ways of decisively foiling terrorists without resorting to means that will only create favorable conditions for terrorism to rear its ugly head again and again in the future.
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Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on July 22, 2017.
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