DAGUPAN City, Pangasinan, Jan. 26, 2015—More than the absence of conflict, for the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), peace goes hand in hand with justice, stressing it is not the fruit of a mere handshake or an embrace.
In a pastoral statement on the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) signed Jan. 22, 2015, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan tells “all people of good will” that peace is the “assurance of respect for fundamental human dignity and human rights”.
Concerns of non-Muslims
“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,” he says.
“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,” Villegas adds.
Quoting Pope Francis’ message at Malacañan, the prelate shares, “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.”
Villegas, however, expresses concerns that 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,” he explains.
According to him, many are also disturbed that there is misinformation and misinterpretation on certain provisions of the BBL.
“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,” Villegas laments.
“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,” he states. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)