Maglana: Following through on historical injustice talk

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has talked about historical injustice experienced by Mindanawons in the hands of colonizers, particularly Spain and America, in many of his speeches. But historical injustice is not just about past events. For the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples, historical injustice is a process sustained and institutionalized by Philippine governments and normalized by belief systems, the cumulative effects of which they still experience today. President Duterte's administration has the option of going beyond just talking about it.

Historical injustice, along with marginalization through land dispossession, human rights violations, and legitimate grievances were among the concerns that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) tasked the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to study and to make recommendations as part of the implementation of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The TJRC submitted and launched a full report in 2016. The Aquino administration was only able to initially disseminate the report and instruct government offices to take action before it had to bow out on that election year.

The Duterte administration, initially through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) in 2016 and later through the Joint GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panels, acknowledged the TJRC report and expressed commitment to pursue its recommendations. However, not much has happened with respect to systematic government action on the TJRC recommendations to date.

Fortunately, civil society voices coming from Bangsamoro women, the academe, and groups like the Independent Working Group on Transitional Justice-Dealing with the Past had been strong in the preparation of the TJRC report and continued to assert and espouse transitional justice and reconciliation (TJR).

The TJR framework, which is internationally recognized as relevant to communities and societies that had experienced massive human rights violations, internal armed conflicts, or/and authoritarian regimes, underpins the TJRC recommendations.

The TJRC report argued for an approach to TJR that a) views it as a political framework, b) regards it as an opportunity for the Philippines and the Bangsamoro, and c) considers it as a political stand and national process.

As a political framework, TJR does not replace the peace process but is in support of it. Hence, advocates view the legislation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as vital to effective TJR efforts.

The Philippines -- and not just the Bangsamoro -- stands to gain from TJR. Our country will benefit from efforts that affirm diversity and plural identities as part of our assets and celebrate historical and cultural resilience.

According to TJRC, making TJR a political stand and national process means that government would demonstrate that it assumes "political and moral responsibility for all its peoples" and that there are spaces for "political debate and nonviolent management of conflicting views and interests" -- thus sending unequivocal signals to the rest of Philippine society and the global community. This underscores the importance of the creation of a mechanism initially named the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission for the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB).

In this context, we should pay attention to House Bill (HB 5669),the short title of which is "Transitional Justice and Reconciliation for the Bangsamoro Act," filed by Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte.

HB 5669 picks up from the TJRC report and is a different track from initial government pronouncements about establishing a TJR mechanism through executive action. Secretary Jesus Dureza of Opapp in a December 2017 conference organized by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women said, "There are a lot of things that can be done together. Kami sa OPAPP, we're committed to do whatever we can. Maybe we can already start crafting an EO for the NTJRCB and distribute it amongst yourselves before we can present it to the president."

Rep. Belmonte has begun to consult stakeholders about HB 5669. This should be maximized to generate more and wider discussions about TJR. How does the bill relate to legislation of the BBL? The version submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission also has a provision on a transitional justice mechanism. And what effects would policies directed at establishing a federal government in the country have on TJR mechanisms and initiatives? These and many other questions need to be raised and resolved.

The response that BBL and federalism should be dealt with first before TJR is tackled is unacceptable. Should not TJR inform and be part and parcel of deliberations on measures that are meant to address historical injustice?

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