Message of Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles at the TJRC Report Public Launch

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 11:15

At the TRJC Report Public Launch held in Cotabato City
By Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
16 March 2016

Good morning.  Assalamu aleikum warahmatullahitaala wahbarakatuh.  A peaceful morning to everyone here.

I am pleased to be part of our event this morning, an event which comes out of our daily, sometimes seemingly futile, grappling with questions as we work to bring to an end more than four decades of internal armed conflict here in Southern Philippines:

Why do we have wars?  Why do people have to suffer so much pain in the hands of their fellow human beings?  And, how do we make it all stop?  How do we pick up the pieces left shattered in war’s aftermath?  How do we even begin to get back to where we were before war left us battered and wounded and grieving? How do we make peace with each other when decades-old divides, exacerbated by war, separate us?

How do we get to that point where, as the Psalm[1] announces, “Mercy and truth have met together, justice and peace have kissed”?

In different parts of the world, countries have looked for answers in peace processes that have all too often focused on the armed protagonists without heeding the voice of the countless victims of war desperately crying out for justice, and without addressing the deep roots of conflict in historical and cultural divides. In many cases, the decision to establish mechanisms to bring transitional justice and foster reconciliation have been made unilaterally, usually by the state party.  Rarely, if ever, have the two parties to the conflict taken the initiative to make a united decision to undertake this long and difficult—but ultimately indispensible—task.

This is why, as the TJRC puts it, what we have accomplished here is “a global first” with the mutual agreement of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to include in the peace accords the establishment of an impartial and independent body mandated to study the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro, historical injustices, human rights violations, and marginalization through land dispossession—even while they were still traversing the difficult negotiating table.

Truly without justice and reconciliation, there can be no true peace.  Without justice and reconciliation, the most we can hope for is nothing but a prolonged ceasefire, where the wounds of war never heal and the deep divides it worsens will never be bridged.

And yet, in our country’s long journey to peace, we have not seen serious efforts at transitional justice and reconciliation.  For the longest time, we have been struggling to build peace without giving due attention to the necessary tasks of truth-telling, remembrance, and exacting accountabilities regarding the dark periods of our national history in order to ensure that these are not repeated, that grievances are attended to, and divisions are bridged.  It is a big missing part of how we have been dealing with our past and, I believe, the reason why the dark past keeps reinventing and re-inserting itself in the present, as we are again seeing today in the competing narratives of our present national electoral campaign, threatening and undermining our strivings to achieve a better and brighter future.

This is why, early on, in the peace process under this administration, the government had determined that, this time around, we would make sure that the peace accords we would henceforth sign would include the element of transitional justice and healing.  Thus, as some of you may recall, the “3-for-1” proposal that we proferred during the initial exchange of drafts between the two parties in 2011 had, as its first component, “retelling history.”  And we, indeed, are glad that this element found its way, in far clearer, more comprehensive, more robust terms, in the Normalization Annex, and, thus, fully accept and take on government’s responsibility in this regard.

It is thus our call and our hope that every Filipino would take the time to read the report that we are launching today.  If we are to build the future that we want—surely a future where all Filipinos can live in a state of progress and prosperity under an atmosphere of peace and harmony—we will have to come to terms with our past.  And in dealing with the past, we will have to raise difficult questions and open conversations on topics we might not all be comfortable with—topics dealing with  questions of truth, justice, history, and reparations.

This report was crafted precisely to start these conversations, containing, as it does, recommendations based on the “listening process” conducted in conflict-affected communities, the work of four Study Groups that covered studies and reports relating to the TJRC’s mandate, an assessment on Dealing with the Past, and key Policy Interviews that validated the findings and recommendations of this report.  Simply put, in giving us a thorough examination of the past, the report now offers us a way forward.  

We commend and thank everyone who formed part of this whole process, especially the members of the TJRC: with its chair Ms. Mo Beeker, Special Envoy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs; GPH delegate, Atty. Cecilia Jimenez; and MILF delegate, Atty. Ishak Matura; together with GPH alternate delegate, Atty. Mohammed Al-amin Julkipli, who was very newly appointed as  Commissioner of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos; and MILF alternative delegate, Atty. Rusty Kalim. We also acknowledge the invaluable contribution of the TJRC Senior Adviser Mr. Jonathan Sisson, also of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.  

We know you consulted more than 3,000 individuals spanning 210 Muslim, Lumad, and Christian communities in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, and we are truly grateful for every step you took in coming up with this report.  We know that the process could not always have been easy and, particularly for the community facilitators who worked with you, there are new pains and trauma that also need healing.  The process you chose to undertake is truly a hallmark of the inclusiveness the Bangsamoro peace process has always striven to embody, and we have no doubt it will make large strides towards bridging the divides between our peoples and healing the wounds left by war.

We also wish to give special acknowledgement and thanks to the grassroots participants of the extensive “listening process” that, I believe, constitutes the heart and soul of this report. We thank them for bravely and generously sharing their stories.  Salamat sa lahat ng nagbahagi ng kanilang kwento sa mahaba at malawak na prosesong ito.  Alam ko pong hindi madali, kundi napakasakit, kahit ang alalahanin lang, lalo na kung ibahagi pa, ang mga hirap at dusa na pinagdaanan ninyo. Ipinangangako ko na aming laging gagalangin, pahahalagahan, at bibigyan ng nararapat na saysay ang inyong mga kwento at mapait na alaala.    

With full intent and drawing on all our available resources and powers, the Aquino government is taking this report seriously. It will not just end up gathering dust in a filing cabinet somewhere.  

To this end, Executive Secretary  Paquito Ochoa, “Noting that the TJRC Report contains specific recommendations addressed to various government agencies as to actions that may be taken to help address legitimate grievances and and correct historical injustices,” signed a Memorandum of Instructions last March 11, directing the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (and I am now quoting directly from the Memorandum) to (1) endorse the TJRC Report to the relevant agencies for the agencies’ review and assessment; (2) convene and coordinate with the agencies to work towards the adoption and implementation of the recommendations; and (3) identify and mobilize resources to support the programs that may be implemented, and (4) encourage and initiate activities towards the mainstreaming and popularization of the framework for transitional justice and reconciliation.  Finally, The PAPP is required to present a report to the Executive Secretary on her compliance with these instructions.

In compliance, I will be issuing within this week an Office Order to compose a working committee composed of representatives from the different relevant units of OPAPP to undertake the tasks set forth by the Executive Secretary.  The working committee shall work under my direct supervision.  We will seek at the earliest possible time to draw up Memoranda of Agreement to institutionalize the partnership along these different tasks with selected government agencies, led by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Education, the National Historical Commission, the Claims Board for Human Rights Victims of Martial Law, and the ARMM Regional Government, particularly its regional human rights body and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which agencies have already initiated relevant processes and reforms on which the further work of truth-telling, memorialization, redress, and reconciliation can build. 

We will also work closely with the Peace and Human Rights Desks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, respectively.  We will further mobilize the Steering Committee for the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, pursuant to UNSCR 1325, to revisit their programs with the additional lens of transitional justice and reconciliation. As well, we will try to expand our efforts by tapping the expertise and knowledge base of the academic community and civil society. Certainly, it is our intent to maintain continuing conversation with the MILF with regards all these efforts. I cannot guarantee that we will agree with all the points raised in the report, but I can commit that we will study each point carefully.  Before we step down  from office on June 30, 2016, in compliance with the instructions of the Executive Secretary, we will be ready to report to you in full the progress we will make in the coming months.

We only have three-and-a-half months left to our term—107 days to go, to be exact.  It is not much time but, indeed, time enough to identify strategic program thrusts and embed these through the appropriate department orders and funds allocation in the mainstream work of selected relevant agencies. It is enough time to raise consciousness among the relevant government agencies and strategic partners in the academe and civil society on the unfinished business of transitional justice and reconciliation that will have to be pursued under the next administration and beyond.  It is enough time to get a core of our national leaders to care and to claim their own responsibility in pursuing redress of legitimate grievances, bridging the divides, and healing the wounds of war. 

Our efforts in this regard in the remaining months of this administration will hopefully lay the groundwork for establishing a more permanent and independent structure to oversee the entirety of the process, which may, in time, be created by law.  In any case, this now firmly sets into place  another part of our roadmap, specifically under the Normalization Track of the Bangsamoro peace process, and that comes with the recognition that it is a long-term effort that must and will span many administrations beyond this one.  

Surely, this work must accompany our efforts in the political track to ensure the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law within the first half of the next Congress.  As we have noted several times over, the bile and vituperation flowing post-Mamasapano revealed, in the words of a Mindanaoan, “the fault lines, the fundamental hatred and antagonisms” that need to be addressed for BBL to grow deeper roots.  We can—and we will—legislate a new political entity, but we cannot simply legislate a change of hearts.  For this, we need to undertake the hard, longterm efforts such as those embodied in the recommendations of the TJRC Report. As government continues to pursue its political commitment for the passage of the BBL in accordance with the roadmap laid out by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, we fully accept the additional tasks that the TJRC Report calls us to.  These are the foundations that will allow us to translate our vision of peace into reality—peace that is truly inclusive, lasting, and just; peace that translates to real and tangible changes for families and communities on the ground; peace that leads to harmony and reconciliation.

There is no question that we must and will continue to uphold the CAB. As the TJRC so forcefully states, with the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement, we now have a “Bangsamoro opportunity” rather than a “Bangsamoro problem”—a unique and extraordinary opportunity for the Bangsamoro and the entire Filipino nation to bring to light and embrace the reality that we are a nation of many identities, and it is this diversity that makes us strong.  It is an opportunity for us to show our country and the rest of the world that there is a better way to live—that, despite our differences, we can all coexist peacefully in a democratic, pluralistic society that gives all its peoples, not just the dominant majority, the political space they need to articulate their interests and manage conflicting views without resorting to violence, and where we can join hands with each other to promote the rule of law, security, and development. It is an opportunity to show that our nation is large enough to accommodate the myriad identities and aspirations of our peoples, especially the Bangsamoro and the indigenous peoples, who are as vital and vibrant parts of the Philippines as much as anyone.

This Bangsamoro opportunity is one we ignore at our own peril. And we take heart in seeing that the parties in this peace process are not ignoring this opportunity and are in fact doing all they can to make sure we take it and make the most of it. Despite setbacks and difficulties along the way, and we are sure that there will be more challenges awaiting in our way forward, no one is backing out. No one is giving up—not the MILF,  surely not the government. And we ask you not to give up as well. Not now, when we are as close as we have ever been to bringing peace to our country—so close that we can almost see, with greater clarity than ever before, that bright new dawn awaiting us all at that place where mercy and truth are met together, at that place where justice and peace have kissed.

Thank you and good morning.  Shukran.

[1] Psalm 85:10