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(Statement of CBCP Plenary Assembly Adopting the Mindanao Catholic Bishops on the BBL and the Peace Process)

“Guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:79)

Our Common Stand

Questions and varying opinions about the peace process and the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) abound at all levels of Mindanao society.

As religious and moral teachers we, Catholic bishops of Mindanao, stand on common moral ground on the issues.

We do not intend to endorse or not to endorse any draft BBL being discussed by the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives. But we intend to envision a BBL that is based on and guided by social moral principles.

We note that:

(1)   Christianity and Islam are religions of peace;

(2)   The vast majority of Muslim, Christian, and Indigenous People communities in Mindanao aspire for peace; and

(3)   All-out war is not the answer to the Mindanao situation.

Ever since colonial times, Muslim leaders have expressed three major grievances: the reduction of their ancestral territory, the erosion of their cultural identity, and the loss of self-determination in the development of their communities.

At the basis of the deep fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration to self-determination in an autonomous region is the moral principle of social justice. Social justice implies the other moral principles of just peace and inter-religious harmony.

This is the moral framework from which we view the peace process and the draft BBL.

A Social Climate of Mutual Mistrust, Bias and Prejudice

The present social context is one of mutual biases and prejudices, of mutual charges of injustice. Such social climate demands moral consideration.

For the Christian disciple, the fundamental wake-up call to conscience would be: Would Jesus approve our biases and prejudices that create unpeace?

Bias and prejudice are part and parcel of the deep mistrust between Christians and Muslims, two peoples coming from the same Abrahamic faith.

It is this climate of mistrust that the horrible human tragedy at Mamasapano, Maguindanao, has resurrected. It has placed the peace process and the proposed BBL in limbo. But we believe that the Mamasapano disaster must not be equated with the BBL.

A BBL We Do Not Want

Everyone wants peace, everyone wants some kind of BBL.

On our part, viewing the issues from a moral angle, we do not want a BBL that does not effectively address the root causes of social injustice.

We do not want a BBL that does not achieve the centuries-old Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination.

We do not want a BBL that makes the proposed Bangsamoro area of self-determination less autonomous than the ARMM it is meant to replace.

We do not want a BBL that discriminates by not effectively protecting and promoting the rights of minorities, indigenous or not.

We do not want a BBL that will foster ethnic, religious, political, and economic discrimination.

A BBL We Want

Like everyone else we, Bishops, want a just and lasting peace.

For this reason, we want a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is rooted in social justice and promotes social justice.

We want a BBL that effectively addresses the injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro as well as the injustices suffered by indigenous peoples and various religious minorities within the proposed Bangsamoro area.

We want a BBL that concretely achieves the self-determination of the Bangsamoro in an identified area that remains part and parcel of the territorial integrity and under the national sovereignty of the Philippine Republic.

We want a BBL that promotes harmonious relationships between peoples of various ethnic groups and of different faiths.

We want a BBL that effectively protects universal human rights, particularly the rights of IPs already enshrined in law, and the rights of Christian minorities who fear harassment and further marginalization.

We want a BBL that responds concretely to the concerns, hopes and aspirations of all stakeholders, of various Bangsamoro groups, and  of non-Moro citizens within the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

We want a BBL whose provisions are clearly Constitutional, without betraying the intent and spirit of peace agreements.

That is the BBL we envision on the basis of social moral principles of social justice, harmony and peace. It is a vision that goes beyond the proposals now being discussed in our legislature.

The Constitutional Issue

On both sides of the constitutional issue are legal experts and constitutional luminaries. One group defends the constitutionality of BBL provisions and their root-documents, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The other group rejects them as unconstitutional.

In the light of these divergent expert opinions we note the scrutiny of the BBL by Ad Hoc Legislative Committees.

We pray that the Ad Hoc Committees seriously and fairly consider these contrary expert opinions so as not to imperil the requirements of social justice for the Bangsamoro.

The suggestion of many experts, we believe, is wise — that such issues be left to the Supreme Court for judicial review. If left out through substantive revisions, the Supreme Court can no longer re-insert them.

The Need for Trust in Waging Peace

Through many years of intense, and often adversarial debates, the relationship between our government peace panel and the MILF peace panel has evolved from suspicion and hostility to mutual trust and understanding.

Theirs was a labor of partnership and they have produced, they believe, an agreement that, though imperfect, is a pathway to a just and lasting peace.

Let us then transcend the negative emotions of human tragedy and continue on the road to peace by way of dialogue, based on mutual trust, openness, and respect.


We reiterate the fundamental intention of this statement. It does not intend to be either for or against the various drafts of the BBL being discussed in our Legislature. It simply presents social and moral principles and envisions, in general terms, a BBL that flows from the same principles.

The moral imperative to lasting peace is this: Christians, Muslims, Lumads and members of other faiths have to begin trusting in one another.

Continuing mistrust is the road to continuing violence and unrest in Mindanao. Trust is a moral pre-requisite for justice, harmony and peace.

Mary is eminently honored in both the Qur’an and the Christian Bible as the Virgin Mother of Jesus, whom we Christians call “Our Peace.” To the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Peace, we commend all our striving for a just and lasting peace.

On the Occasion of the CBCP Plenary Assembly

Pius XII Center, Manila

11 July 2015

Bataan Valor, Peacemaking and the Draft BBL by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas

I write these thoughts as a Filipino and as a believer in Christ. I speak neither for the Catholic hierarchy nor for my people in Lingayen Dagupan. I speak from my heart, molded by the five years of my ministry in Bataan, land of valor, land of peace. What did Bataan teach me about peace? What does Bataan say to me about the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law?

Principled Peace

All must work for peace in Mindanao – and throughout the country.  This precept is not seriously disputed at all.  What threatens the prospect of peace most, however, is equating it with the present BBL and threatening the return of violence and bloodshed should the Legislature fail to pass it intact!

A complicated history and complicated issues do not lend themselves to simplistic solutions, and the more possibilities are restricted, the less likely truly lasting peace becomes.

Our sights should be set not on a truce, not on some tenuous cessation of hostilities, and for this, principles must be explicated, clearly discussed and rationally agreed on.  This is what I refer to as ‘principled peace’.  And warning that we shall have war unless BBL is passed does not make for principled peace!

Inalienable Rights

I refer to the “people of Mindanao” and not only to Muslims, because Mindanao has many communities that are not Muslim, and the principled peace we so desire cannot be attained unless we make a firm resolve to respect the rights of all.

Social justice is the name of the just claim of the people of Mindanao to a share in the prosperity of the nation and to its resources.  It is not just to beggar Southern Philippines.  It is not just that morsels be thrown in their direction while imperial Manila lounges in luxury, fed and pampered by the toil and industry of the provinces.  Social justice is the just cry that protests against the disproportion in allotments between the provinces of Mindanao and those of the rest of the country.

Self-determination is what gives them the right to live by their moral codes, their cultural mores and their rich traditions.  It is the name of their right to determine how they ought to live and how they ought to organize themselves to be true to their most sacred beliefs and their heritage as a people.  Self-determination is their greatest entitlement to that degree of autonomy that is consistent with the right of the Republic to its integrity and sovereignty.  We are not conceding favors to Mindanao.  We are recognizing the rights of the people of Mindanao and according them their due.  It is not a matter of condescension and accommodation but of justice!

Religious freedom is the reason that the people of Mindanao should not be compelled to submit to a secular regime if they believe they should be practicing their religion even in their civil and political lives.  Religious freedom does not only mean that there should be room for all to freely believe and freely practice.  It also means that secularism cannot be an imposed ideology on the entire Republic!

The Constitution

All Filipinos, not only its officials, swear to uphold and defend the Constitution.  It embodies the foundational norms of our organized life, articulates our core-values as a people, and establishes the framework for political and civil life.  It has to be that secure point of reference for all agreements and negotiations. Otherwise, deals and covenants would rest on nothing more than passing fancy, dangerously cheap compromise and perilous détente.

It is my position that all suggestions, insinuations or hints that the Constitution will be amended to accommodate the provisions of the BBL cease.  The Constitution is not a document that can be dealt with in patch-work fashion whenever we enter into negotiations with any restive sector of the Philippines.

In this respect, the decision of the Supreme Court in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (Province of North Cotabato v. GRP Peace Panel, 2008) ought to be the juridical sieve through which the BBL should be examined.  If we pass anything now, let us enact a document that we are morally certain will withstand constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court.

I have paid close attention to the arguments of the legal experts summoned by the houses of Congress to shed light on the Constitutional issues, and I am convinced that there are some very crucial points of constitutional law that ought to be resolved.  Glossing over them will not be helpful at all, and it is neither my place nor my competence to pass upon them now.


The sectors that claim they were not included in the deals leading to the BBL should not be silenced.  Neither should they be ignored.  I refer in particular to the MNLF and to indigenous cultural communities, as well as to Christian communities in Mindanao.  No agreement that is perceived to be favorable to one sector alone will ever bring the sought-after peace for Mindanao.

The BIFF phenomenon is likewise worrisome.  They are armed and dangerous.  They have given the nation concrete demonstration of the trouble they can cause.  Shall we negotiate with them later and hammer another deal?  While the MILF has promised to keep them in check, it has also been relevantly pointed out that relatives, though belonging to different organizations and associations, will not so easily restrain each other!  The same thing must be said of the remnants of the Abu Sayaff Group.  And while some claim that Jemmayah Isalmiyah is a spent force, I personally would like to know more about its presence or its demise in Mindanao.

Finally, there are the traditional institutions such as the sultanates that seem to have been left out of the conversation.  What is their future under the BBL?

Arguments from History

Some of the advocates of BBL rest their claims for the swathe of powers granted the entity known as Bangsamoro invoke historical arguments – such as the sultanates of the past and their sway.   But arguments from history are always tricky.  In fact, international law has rejected this approach altogether by the doctrine of uti possidetis…in respect to the drawing of boundaries, they stay as they are found.  Appealing to history in respect to claims of political power and autonomy will only confound issues more.  Once upon a time, Soliman ruled over  Muslim Manila.  That piece of history is certainly no sound argument for Shari’a in Manila.  I am not against Shari’a.  I am only saying that some arguments are helpful, other are only distracting!

A Plea Against Tribalization

Ours is a beautiful people precisely because of our diversity.  Our cultural heritage is enviable precisely because it is rich.  But it is precisely the multi-faceted character of our ethnicities than can lend itself, unless are vigilant, to a decadent local version of Balkanization, our own form of modern-day tribalization.

From the crucible of history, we have emerged one nation, subsisting as a sovereign State.  This, for me, is beyond negotiation: the singularity of the State and the singularity of sovereignty.  I believe that I speak in union with the Magisterium of the Church on this issue that teaches:

“The rights of nations are nothing but ‘human rights fostered at the specific level of community life’.  A nation has a ‘fundamental right to existence’, to ‘its own language and culture through which a people expresses and promotes…its fundamental spiritual ‘sovereignty’, to ‘shape life according to its own traditions, excluding, of course, every abuse of basic human rights and in particular the oppression of minorities, to ‘build its future by providing an appropriate education for the younger generation’.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 157)

The State has the right to the seamlessness of its integrity and to its territorial integrity!

I am a Filipino. We are Filipinos hallowed by the heroism of our Bataan heroes. The Philippines is God’s gift to me. The Philippines is our blessing from God. We need peace. We need laws for the preservation of peace, principled peace.

Dagupan City, April 9, 2015

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