Pope Francis and the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law

BBL-cover[An Introduction to Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law: Reviews, Commentaries, Recommendations, ADDU: Davao, 2015.]

The visit of Pope Francis to our country will remain in the memory of our People for a long time. It was the visit of a holy man who needed to share with our people the joy of his personal encounter with God. He did so humbly but forcefully to the poor, to the suffering, the victims of calamities and catastrophes, the youth, to representatives of different religions, to the teeming millions of the Filipino faithful. His message was not only for the Catholics of this country but for all its peoples, in whatever way they had been blessed to encounter and worship God.

In so doing, he expressed support for inter-religious dialogue and the peace process in Mindanao. In the opening speech of his visit, he acknowledged national efforts at “integral human development” through which each person would be able to fulfill his or her potential in an achieved common good. “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.”[1]

The visit of Pope Francis in the context of the manifest and discreet conflicts of Mindanao between its peoples of diverse cultures, religions, and powerful interest groups, reiterates his call for “reconciled diversity”[2] and peace, especially as the Congress and the Philippines deliberates on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

It is in this context that the Ateneo de Davao University has just published: Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law: Reviews, Commentaries, Recommendations, Macario Tiu, ed. (ADDU: Davao, 2014). It is not a volume that presents a single harmonized position on the Draft BBL, but offers diverse contributions to the national discussion on the BBL on which so many people pin their hopes for lasting peace in Mindanao. It is a volume that today in Congress is given to each of the members of the Congressional Committee on the BBL. It is also offered to all who are peacemakers, especially among the followers of Islam, the religion of peace, the followers of Christ, the Prince of peace, and the lumad peoples of peace.

Among the important contents of this book are:

“Historical Antecedents of the Bangsamoro” by Dr. Heidi Gloria, Professor of History at the Ateneo de Davao University. This is a précis of her fuller treatment of this important subject in her earlier published work, History from Below: A View from the Philippine South (ADDU: Davao, 2014). Understanding the historical antecedents of the Bangsamoro and of the draft law which seeks to establish it is indispensible for any intelligent consideration of the BBL. For Section 3 of the BBL states: “The purpose of the Basic Law is to establish a political entity, provide for its basic structure of government in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and their aspiration to chart their political future through a democratic process that will secure their identity and posterity and allow for meaningful self-governance.” The “justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people” cannot be established without an appreciation of the history behind the Moro conflict and the efforts today to bring it to an end. Orlando Cardinal Quevedo speaks of three roots of the Moro conflict: injustice to the Moro identity, injustice to Moro political sovereignty, injustice to Moro integral development.[3] This appreciation is especially lacking if one’s historical perspective has been “from the north,” or “from the progress of Spanish or American colonial conquest,” or from the various attempts in history to pacify and “Filipinize” the Moros, or from the northern presumption that the Moros of Mindanao naturally consent to being part of the Filipino nation. For this appreciation, the study of Dr. Gloria’s article is helpful, especially if it leads to a reading of her book.

In “Rethinking Autonomy for Muslim Filipinos,” Atty. Michael Yusingco, author of Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective (ADDU: Davao: 2014)discusses whether the Bangsamoro of the draft BBL is at all necessary in the light of the existing Local Government Code (LGC). The decentralizing LGC succeeds in fact in creating local governments that fruitfully exercise autonomy. It is unfair to give the electorate a take-it-or leave-it BBL as autonomy, or be forever stuck with the failed ARMM. Other options should be considered.

In “Being Filipino and Bangsamoro: A Conversation on Identity Politics,” Datu Mussolini Lidasan, Director of the ADDU Al Qalam Institute, revisits his Iranun roots to express an appreciation for the multi-cultural, multi-people, rich plural society even with Muslim Mindanao which should not be lost to a homogenized Bangsamoro people. “I put emphasis on my Iranun identity because the Bangsamoro identity is trying to homogenize the people in Central Mindanao. It tries to construct a political identity that may somehow erode all cultural identities of the Moro people” (p. 27). On the other hand, the Bangsamoro identity, itself an emerging identity amidst diversity, must dialogue with the “Filipino identity” which developed in history a manner that was inimical to the Moro or Muslim peoples. It is necessary that these two identities dialogue with each other. ”I strongly believe that a realistic identity politics is one that recognizes the dynamic, variable and negotiated character of identity.” The Bangsamoro Filipino is not an oxymoron; it is a work in progress.

In “The Bangsamoro Basic Law, Aristotle, and the Common Good,” Fr. Patrick Riordan, S.J., political philosopher from Heythrop College, London, interprets the Bangsamoro as the freely-decided, dynamic, ongoing cooperation among diverse peoples in Mindanao to reject conflict-driven war and work together towards a situation of shared prosperity and human flourishing; this can be understood in the light of Aristotle’s Politics as those benefactors who decide to collaborate unto the achievement of the common good in a polis. Even if the common good is neither fully articulated nor achieved, it is the good that grounds the collaboration. Can the theory work? Regarding the Bangsamoro, Riordan answers: “If it belongs to them, if it is their very own, and they want it, they can make it work” (p. 54).

In “Indigenous Peoples in the ARMM in a Prism,” Aveen Acuña-Gulo, Project Manager of the “Recognition of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the ARMM for their Empowerment and Sustainable Development” (IPDEV) Project, exposes ignorance about the IPs in the ARMM, and facts of their exploitation as this ignorance remains. She makes recommendations, which I rephrase for simplicity, in the light of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA, RA 8371) being a Peace Treaty achieved without conflict: Use political will to implement the IPRA. Improve governance through wide peoples’ participation. Government must not yield its duty to govern to NGOs. Government’s loyalty should remain with the common good. Implement the law. The Philippines’ being a signatory to international agreements should translate on the ground justice for all. Legislating the BBL must consider the weaknesses in implementing the IPRA under the ARMM if the IPs will be dealt with justly under the BBL.

“IPRA in the BBL” is the impassioned statement of Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., Mindanao peace advocate, that the BBL “must guarantee, in word and in spirit, the recognition, respect, and implementation of the Indigenous People right Act (IPRA).” He has three arguments: (1) “ARMM was a failed experiment not just because of corruption, but because it failed to do justice to the indigenous people.” (2) “To secure the rights of indigenous peoples, as we correct the injustice to the Bangsamoro – that is really revolutionary because it stops the whole colonial project.” (3) “IPRA itself is a peace agreement, achieved through peaceful means. It must not be sacrificed just to sign a peace pact won through war.” “…Moro, Kristyano at Lumad, sama-samang IPRAtupad!”

In “Issues and Commentaries on the Shari’ah Law and the Judicial System in the BBL” Ustadz Janor Caparan Balo of the ADDU shares his reflections on references in the BBL to the Shari’ah Justice System and its manner of implementation. He concludes: “The success of the Shari’ah justice system will not just lie on the silence and passive acceptance of the Bangsamoro Constituency, but by proper participation through the study of the provisions. By doing so, it may be improved and may become appropriate and responsive to the needs of the people…” “The Shari’ah law should not discriminate and promote prejudice to people regardless of their beliefs and practices, but promote the universal goodness of humanity. After all, we are all created by God, and verily the God Almighty who sees all this is just and forgiving.”

In his “Position Paper on the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Datu Hussayin A. Arpa of Maharlika Mindanao/Sulu Philipines for the Sama and Bajau (Wazir) presents eleven demands to the Philippine Congress in their favor. Among these, demands for appropriate participation of the Sama and Bajau in decision-making bodies and for “the rights of the Sama and Bajau people to their ancestral territory, with the Sama occupying the shoreline areas, and the Bajau occupying the deep water areas within the water territories as provided for under the BBL.” “We all dream to live in peace,” he states. “Peace be with you all. Wassalam.”

In “Basic Human Rights, Women’s Rights and the BBL,” Atty. Faye Risonar-Bello of ADDU reviews the eleven Basic Human and Women’s Rights affirmed in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) of October 15, 2012, and addresses the basic question: “To what extent has the BBL (HB 4994) been faithful to the above-mentioned principles?” In appreciating the question, she scans the BBL provisions which affirm the respect for basic human rights and those which articulate the meaningful role of women in the Bangsamoro government. She then looks at the measures in the BBL that concretize this guarantee of fundamental human and women’s rights. She then presents challenges and opportunities for participation in the proposed BBL, specifically on the implementation of these provisions that respect and promote the basic human and women’s rights.

Finally, in “The Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law: Overcoming Constitutional Challenges,” Dean Antonio La Viña and Atty. Janice Lee of the ADMU School of Government, present an analysis of the BBL which concludes “that the draft BBL contains no patently unconstitutional provisions.” But the researchers recommend clarifications of key concepts in the BBL to diminish the chances of misinterpretation. These include “asymmetrical relationship,” “Bangsamoro,” and “exclusive powers.” The article treats (1) The BBL: Background and Context; (2) Constitutional Justifications for the Enactment of the BBL; and offers a (3) Legal Evaluation of the key BBL-Provisions. This section suggests carefully formulated texts to legislators to satisfactorily clarify the three problematic concepts.

The congressional passage and people’s ratification of the BBL would provide the legal framework for the ongoing realization of the Bangsamoro in the Philippines. The name indicates a primacy of the Philippine Moro peoples within this framework, but the latter also includes within the Bangsamoro territory non-Muslim Filipinos and non-Muslim indigenous peoples. Bangsamoro is a resolve among diverse peoples, trusting in one another and in the guiding power of God, and reposing trust in and receiving trust from the national Government of the Philippines together to set aside arms and violence and to work out and work for in a shared history the reconciled diversity that the common good demands.

Perhaps we can end this invitation to reflect on the Draft BBL and support the Bangsamoro by returning to the words of Pope Francis: “Today the Philippines, together with many other countries in Asia, faces the challenge of building on solid foundations a modern society – a society respectful of authentic human values, protective of our God-given human dignity and rights, and ready to confront new and complex political and ethical questions.  As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.  In this way they will help preserve the rich human and natural resources with which God has blessed this country.  Thus will they be able to marshal the moral resources needed to face the demands of the present, and to pass on to coming generations a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace.”[4]

[Copies of Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law: Reviews, Commentaries, Recommendations available in the Office of the President, Ateneo de Davao.  Or contact:  Mr. Vinci Bueza, (082) 221-2411 loc. 8231.  Or email:  rvrbueza@addu.edu.ph.  Delivery can be arranged.]


[1] Pope Francis, Address to the Authorities and Diplomatic Corps in Manila’s Malacañang Palace, Philippines. January 16, 2015.

[2] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 2013, no. 230.

[3] Orlando B. Quevedo, “Injustice: the Root of Conflict in Mindanao” in Bangsamoro: Documents and Materials, vol. 1 (Davao, ADDU, 2014), pp. xiii-xxii.

[4] Pope Francis, Address to the Authorities and Diplomatic Corps in Manila’s Malacañang Palace, Philippines.


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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