Moving beyond: Transitional justice for the Bangsamoro conflict

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

WITH the Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed, there is hope for peace. That hope, however, will remain on tenuous grounds for as long as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) does not recognize past wrongs.

The road to peace in Mindanao has been pocked with wars, evacuations, and the corresponding loss of lives and livelihood for decades.

The peace negotiations between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for one took all of 17 years of bargaining while holding on to principles disparate enough as to cause outbreaks of hostilities in between.

There’s still a tenuous hold on the peace with the crafting of the Bangsamoro Law, of which has to be tackled by legislators many of whom do not have full comprehension or even a minute understanding about the agreement signed and the history of grievances.

Still, there is the need to move forward. With the CAB, a framework has been laid out on how to, but that framework itself is pocked with almost two decades of conflict that has victimized not just Moro but also non-Moro people, many of them in indigenous communities.

Thus the discussion about transitional justice.

The United Nations defines transitional justice as: “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.”

Its definition alone hints at historical abuses and emotions long ignored that have to be addressed in order for the survivors to leave the past to the past and start anew, reinforced in the conviction that the past has been dealt with accordingly.

This is a field full of landmines.

“Pursuing transitional justice faces a fundamental dilemma: while sensitive, contextual mechanisms can address historical injustice and pave the road to reconciliation, a process that is not adapted to local realities may instead deepen the wounds that it seeks to heal,” the introduction to the publication “Moving Beyond: Towards Transitional Justice in the Bangsmoro Peace Process” by ForumZFD, a German non-government organization engaged in conflict work in Mindanao since 2008.

The publication containing a collection of articles aimed to provide tools for understanding of transitional justice was launched at the Apo Vie Hotel last July 14, attended by members of peace organizations who were later broken up into working groups to flesh out what transitional justice really means on the ground.

It was a long discussion. We thus get a hint of how difficult this is to comprehend as veterans of peace work and conflict resolution in Mindanao struggle to get their ideas across on what transitional peace can really mean to a vast expanse of land now identified as Bangsamoro land with people of different convictions and principles all made to suffer through the decades long conflict. It become more tenuous considering that majority of those tasked now to draft the Bangsamoro Law barely have a cursory interest on the Mindanao conflict.

We get a hint of this when government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer herself admitted that "significant points of differences" on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) continue to threaten the roadmap towards the establishment of a Bangasamoro government.

While not saying what these significant points are, she continued to say that, “We will not and cannot move forward in the roadmap towards the establishment of the Bangsamoro unless we hurdle this crucial stage. We wish the MILF to understand the basis for the comments made as part of the review process by the Office of the President.”

To this, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal was later quoted by Mindanews as saying that the draft made by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has been heavily diluted and that should this be pushed through, it will be worse than the law governing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).

“The position of the MILF on the proposed BBL is very simple and straight forward. All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the Parties. If reasons and consistency prevail, there is no way this controversy cannot be settled,” Mindanews quoted Iqbal as saying.

Fr. Joel Tabora SJ in his welcome address during the ForuZFD publication launch recognized this underlying conflict.

“Finding agreement on the nuanced concepts fixed in documents on the negotiating table may be important, but affixing signatures to peace agreements or to a new Bangsamoro Basic Law does not insure peace, nor insulate the future from the evils and wrongdoings of the past. With the excitement of the immanent Bangsamoro political entity which we firmly hope will secure a real and meaningful autonomy for Muslim Filipinos, a temptation may be to think that the past will take care of itself, that we should all simply forgive and forget, and focus on the bright prospects of the future,” he said.

“The trouble with this is that with the signing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, we shall not have solved the subsisting problem in the asymmetric relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Republic of the Philippines, that one is big and the other is bigger, that one is contained and the other contains, that one is secured and that the other secures, that one is autonomous and the other governs,” he added.

Ruben Carranza, Director of the Reparative Justice Program at the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York, who is among the authors of articles in the publication, and who also delivered the keynote speech during the launch, cautioned that transitional justice should not be seen “as a separate notion of justice” even as people would often associate justice with going to the court and filing a lawsuit. This, cannot apply to victims of injustice that has transcended generations.

“Do you for instance ask people in the Bangsamoro who were victimized by armed conflict to sue in the regional trial court of Cotabato? How many cases would that entail? It is even possible to litigate these cases, to go to the courts and resolve these questions?”

Carranza thus explained that transitional justice addresses injustices but does not rely solely on courts. It is a prosecution-mechanism that includes truth-seeking, reparations, and institutional reforms along the line of “Nunca Mas” or “never again”.

Moving Beyond, Fr. Tabora pointed out is not easy as what is being left behind are personal wounds and losses due to past conflicts in the Bangsamoro Area that may go as far back as the homesteading program of the American regime and the Commonwealth, and the wars and massacres that have occurred from then until now.

Manuel Domes of ForumZFD stressed that the publication only presents transitional justice in its different applications all over the world and in the Bangsamoro context.

“We’re not trying to simplify things that are complicated, but we are trying to make things more doable,” he said, thus the publication tackles experiences in Aceh, Latin America, and other parts of the world where conflict has reigned for generations.

In the meantime, talking about the past and recognizing the reparations that have to be made is already half a step forward.

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