Speech of Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles during the Multi-Sectoral Peace Dialogue Towards a Consensus on the BBL

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - 06:15


During the Multi-Sectoral Peace Dialogue Towards a Consensus on the BBL, organized    
  by the Miriam College-Women and Gender Institute (WAGI) and the Women’s Peace Table  
  at  Miriam College, Quezon City
By Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
8 September 2015


Since early this year we have had an excess of words and emotions, of debates and diatribe, of verbal parry and thrust, of verbal sleight of hand, of politics infusing the atmosphere and skewing our thoughts—a lot of sound and fury, signifying what?

I say “Enough already.”  Although I love words—I live by them and also make a living by them, in a fashion—I am aware that words are two-edged.   They can come cheap and easy, they can also come at a high price, they can conceal as well as reveal, they can enlighten but also obfuscate.

Instead I propose to speak, in the short time given me, about images, about symbols—two in particular: the first is Advent, which starts off the Christian liturgical calendar; and the second is colors, not exactly an image but the very stuff of which images are made.

Why Advent?  Although Advent is a full three months away, I invoke it as a Christian because its meaning is simply this: Advent is a season of gift-giving.  For Christians, Advent refers to the coming of Christ, to the gift that was his life; and how his death made possible the gospel promise: Behold I make all things new.

This, I daresay, is the challenge the Bangsamoro Basic Law poses to us all: how to start afresh in Mindanao, how to write a new narrative from out of the rivers of blood that have poisoned the old—and current—narratives. 

A dear friend told me that, moving to Zamboanga City as a young bride in the 70s, meant coming across a dismembered corpse inside a sack during an early morning jog; it meant avoiding moviehouses and public spaces after sundown for fear of grenade explosions; it meant skipping the early morning and late afternoon long-distance bus rides (meaning the first trip and last trip) for fear of ambuscades; it meant being awakened one morning by bombardment in far-off Sulu with smoke tapering to the skies, confirming that the island was under siege. 

These individual stories do not account for tales of pickled Muslim ears kept in small jars by Christian Ilagas in Cotabato; of poor Christian fishermen made to climb coconut trees as target practice for Muslim bandidos in a Zamboanga village; of Muslim, and Christian, passengers detained by the roadside and killed on the spot for speaking with the wrong accent; of Christian security guards in a logging company returning back to camp as corpses. 

And still these do not account for the scale of suffering and uprooting of whole communities caught in the crosshairs of fighting between military and Muslim rebels, from the 70s and the 80s on to the 90s and the new millennium. For countless communities in Mindanao whose laughter and harvests and rejoicing had turned to grief and dust and despair from one generation to the next, this is what the challenge of Advent means.

In the coming season of Advent, let us make of the BBL a gift—to ourselves, to our neighbors, to our communities, and to our country.  It will not cancel out decades of enmity and bloodletting.  But it will still the guns, as it has already started to, just long enough for the new narrative to begin to supplant the deadening dialogue of bullets on the battlefield.

And because the BBL is no ordinary gift, it must be a gift worthy of the season of giving.  And because the gift without the giver is bare, it must entail a giving of self.

What do I mean?  It means a giving of our time, our talents, our thinking. One good thing that has come out of the delayed deliberations on BBL in the aftermath of Mamasapano is that there is now a deeper level of thinking, and, hopefully, of understanding, of what the stakes are in the BBL not just for the Bangsamoro people and its territory, but also for you and me, for our children’s children, and for the entire country.  In the face of shriller voices aiming to incite deeper distrust, doubt, and division among our people has also emerged greater resolve among Filipinos coming from different sectors of society to stay the course and win the peace.        

Consider the work of the Peace Council, a body of five invited by President Aquino earlier this year to ascertain the worthiness of the BBL and to clarify contentious issues, among others.  The council of five brought in 27 more, engaging in dialogue with 136 participants, all representing a cross-section of Philippine society. 

The Peace Council concluded that the BBL is a “path to peace” and though it “will not solve all the problems of the country or of the autonomous region … it is a necessary first step …”  The Peace Council’s report is as good a primer as any on the BBL which I highly recommend.  It notes, as other quarters have (Senator TG Guingona, for instance), that the BBL is not a mere piece of legislation but also is a historical document and a political testament.   And, indeed, it is, declaring as untenable the continuing injustice against the Moro people and intimating that tremendous political will must be mustered to right historical wrong. 

Thus, passage of the BBL is truly a gift worthy of the Season of giving.

Let me now turn to my second point: the matter of colors.  Note that Advent is symbolized by the color purple which, co-incidentally, is the episcopal color, the color of bishops, and, as well, the color of the women’s movement, of feminism, if you will.  Add to these the color of green which is the color of Islam, and which also represents the environment, nature.  And, finally, the red, white and blue—the tri-color of the Philippine republic whose sovereignty the BBL steadfastly affirms.  And, not to forget, red and green are the colors of Christmas, and blue is the color of peace.

In the din of outrage and name-calling that followed on the heels of Mamasapano, the church—the bishops of Mindanao, in particular—and the peace advocates, often women-led, stood fast and stood firm.  The statements and pastoral letters issued by Cardinal Quevedo, Abp. Tony Ledesma, and Fr. Joel Tabora, in particular, called on the faithful to counter the unprecedented verbal assault against Moros and the BBL—with peace, understanding, and dialogue.  Their theology was sound, their history self-critical.

As for the peace movement, fueled to a great extent, by womanpower, you know who you are and to you I say—Salud!  What I wish to take note of is the grudging admiration underlying comments on how the women never took their eyes off the ball, so to speak, through the worst hours of the crisis when what we worked so hard on and so long for threatened to be undone—by cynicism, by prejudice, by political grandstanding. 

If I may add, Iye Ferrer and I were the subject of visual sexual vulgarities which were, to say the least, an eye-opener.  Fortunately many, if not most, women have no problem with egos so Iye and I emerged from the experience relatively unscathed.  Of the male ego much has been said, but the female ego does not easily bruise because we don’t have too much ego to start with, if you know what I mean; or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that women’s egos are sturdier and more secure.  We don’t break out or break apart so easily.

We women are in it for the long haul, come rain or come shine.  That is what motherhood and housekeeping have taught us: the tasks are manifold, the days long and weary.  And when something goes wrong, we do not throw that thing away, or pass the problem on to someone else—whether the problem is housekeeping or shepherding a bill.  We fix it.  Call it tenacity, call it female stubbornness, but when you want to make the world a better place to live in, you don’t give up ship.

Among the other colors, let me turn to just one more: green which stands for Islam and also for the environment.  Two of the remaining contentious issues in the substitute bills which have emerged pertain to inland waters and strategic minerals in the Bangsamoro territory.  The substitute Senate bill withdraws jurisdiction over inland waters from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and both Senate and House bills would do the same for fossil fuels and other potential sources of energy if classified as strategic.  This is problematic, as has been explained by GPH panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.  There are other contentious issues, of course, but I single out these two to highlight the fact that matters pertaining to the environment can never be taken for granted.

Let me end with three points.  The first is that the Bangsamoro suffer from many deficits—in human resource development, for instance—and therefore have a lot of catching up to do.  This must be taken into account every step of the way; it will likely require a leveling of the playing field.

The second point is that good governance is critical to the success of BBL and that women are critical to good governance.  It has been said that gender in the Philippine bureaucracy is like a beer bottle with majority women at bottom and middle levels and few at the top.  Not surprisingly, this was true of ARMM which has been controlled and dominated by males since its birth in 1990—until Gov. Mujiv Hataman appointed a critical mass of female managers who today play a vital role in transforming the ARMM.  This harnessing of brilliant and competent and dedicated women must continue on to building the durable structures—institutions that will function and thrive—of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.  It will not be a bed of roses for they will still need to overcome prejudice and other obstacles at all levels, but it can surely be done.

Finally, I underscore the need for a change in mindsets.  I can’t imagine that doing something for the Muslim ummah is treason but my son-in-law recently overheard someone in a shopping mall pointing me out to his companions: “Yun si Deles, ang nagbenta ng Pilipinas.”  This mindset says that the BBL is one step away from secession, that it will open the floodgates of radicalism and extremism.  In fact, as we here all know, the opposite is true: the BBL is a buffer against radicalism; it is protracted conflict that keeps children and youth out of school and vulnerable to overtures from extremists.

Changing mindset means we should eschew exclusionary politics and policies and the cultural arrogance behind the saying - “The only good Moro is a dead Moro.”  We should continue to push for the timely passage of a robust BBL.  We should not settle for “too little, too late.”  Passing the BBL is an appreciation of and recognition that we are a nation of diverse faiths and cultures but also one bound by blood and a common vision. 

Dear sisters and brothers, the season of Advent is nearly upon us—and approaching even earlir is the holy feast of Eidl Adha—seasons of grace, seasons to make all things new.

I wish  all of us here a good day.  Shukran.