Dateline Manila: Shun bias and prejudice vs Bangsamoro, Cardinal appeals PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 14 March 2015 11:34

BY Sammy Santos


Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, a leading peace advocate who served in Mindanao for than 30 years, made a passionate plea for reason and sobriety in the face of the relentless criticisms against the Mindanao peace process as a result of the infamous killing of 44 police commandos and 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Quevedo defended the MILF from allegations of being “a terrorist group,” a charge being hyped by some emotional members of Congress who are supposed to tackle the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The cardinal urged the MILF and the government peace panels to take concrete steps to restore the level of trust and conference that prevailed in the peace process before the unfortunate Mamasapano incident.

In a pastoral letter released to media last week, Quevedo warned of the ill-effects of the prevailing “biases and prejudice” against the Bangsamoro, including the MILF, which signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government last year.

A native of Mindanao, Quevedo lamented that the controversial police operation in Mamasapano “resurrected” age-old biases and prejudices against Muslims and severely threatened to derail the Mindanao peace process. He urged Christians for rationality rather than emotionalism, justice not selective, openness and fairness, rather than bias and prejudice.

“Many of our soldiers and high-ranking officers studied in our Catholic schools. So, too, did members and leaders of the MILF. They are not terrorists. Terrorists have in fact broken away from them. The MILF only aspires and struggles politically for a place under the sun in freedom and dignity,” Quevedo said in his letter, dismissing the terrorist tag being attached to the MILF by grandstanding politicians.

The Mamasapano bloodbath prompted Congress members to suspend the congressional hearings on the BBL, a landmark legislative measure mandated in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAD) between the MILF and government to end a four-decade-old Moro secessionist movement in Mindanao. The BBL aims to create an autonomous Bansamoro region that will give its leaders more autonomy and fiscal powers compared to the current Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Said Quevedo “We hear ourselves say, we cannot trust the Moros, we cannot trust the MILF. We cannot trust them to lay down their arms, we cannot trust them with the money they need for development, we cannot trust them to go after terrorists once they have their own government, we cannot trust them to practice democracy, we cannot trust them to govern well. We simply cannot trust them.”

“The bottom line of the Mamasapano tragedy is mistrust – on both sides of the conflict,” he pointed out.

Quevedo said that biases and prejudices of critics against the Bangsamoro have produced “totally wrong” conclusions about the peace process.

One of these erroneous conclusions, Quevedo said, is that “we lump all Moro armed groups” together “as lawless groups that advocate secession and independence.” These groups include the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and private armed groups.

In his letter, Quevedo listed the other “totally wrong” conclusions now being peddled to misinformed critics:

“We believe that the MILF claims the whole of Mindanao.”

“We conclude that the Bangsamoro government will have agencies that will be totally independent of their national counterparts.”

“We assert that the MILF will become the police force of the Bangsamoro.”

“We dismiss as sham the conversion of MILF from a secessionist movement into a principled partner for peace. We persist in calling them ‘secessionists.’”

“We threaten to do away with provisions that protect a proposed fledgling Bangsamoro government from the negativities of warlordism and clan domination. Yet it is so easy to ask our own peace negotiators why it is necessary for the Bangsamoro to be ‘MILf-led’ in the short term.”

“We mistrust the MILF’s determination to govern well and thus  reverse Bangsamoro political history.”

On the contrary, the cardinal said, the BBL has positive features that would contribute to the end of the Mindanao conflict:

“Bangsamoro self-determination will be exercised within a limited territory under the sovereignty of the Philippines. National sovereignty and territorial integrity will be preserved,” he said. “The overall principle that governs the BBL is the Catholic moral and social principle of subsidiarity, a principle already enshrined in our own Constitution. The principle requires the intervention of the national government and its various entities when the common good of all requires it. Therefore, no entity of the Bangsamoro government, such as a Bangsamoro auditing department or police force, is absolutely independent of their national counterparts.”

“But let there be consensus among constitutional luminaries on what is constitutional and what is not constitutional among the provisions of the BBL. Let us make sure that we do not ‘improve and strengthen’ the BBL such that the idea of self-determination that is imbedded in various provisions of the BBL becomes once more an illusion, a desire begging despairingly to be realized,” he said.

Here are more excerpts of Quevedo’s letter:

“Self-determination has been the cry of the Bangsamoro for centuries. They struggled to preserve it against the Spaniards and the Americans. They insisted on it in the face of our government’s efforts to neutralize and domesticate it by democratic processes and the lure of economic development.”

“Rightfully, we are outraged by the manner by which our valiant SAF forces were killed. But in the past 100 years, the Bangsamoro have seen hundreds of their own people, including women and children, massacred in mountains and mosques. And we did not open our eyes and ears to see and hear their plaintive cries for justice.”

“The lesson of history is not one we can sweep under the rug – the fundamental aspiration of a “nation” for self-determination does not die. It will seem to fade away with the passing of old leaders but if unrealized the drive for self-determination will rise with the radicalization of younger generations”.

“I am for peace, the peace that God grants to people of good will. I am for the peace that God gives through the collaborative work of men and women who work conscientiously for the good of the whole country. By focusing on the good of a Bangsamoro minority in the “peripheries” who have suffered social injustices for centuries, they are working for the common good of all Filipinos. They are healing historic wounds that have caused great suffering to all Filipinos.”

“And so must I grieve for our courageous SAF troops who have lost their lives. I must also grieve for all the other Filipinos who perished in Mamasapano. I grieve and pray for the families they left behind, their inconsolable widows and children, for their uncertain future. For their sake I seek justice and accountability.”

“It is the Spirit of God that gives hope and infuses love and harmony among peoples of different faiths and cultures. With God’s Spirit we can soar over tragedies, we can restore trust for one another, we can strive together for harmony and peace. Ultimately it is in the enlightened heart where love and peace begin.”