Thank you Honorable Chairman — the best Congressman — of the Second District of Cagayan De Oro — and the Honorable Members of this seminal Ad Hoc Committee for this humbling opportunity to share our views on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

On behalf of my organization, the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)- an organization committed to bridging peoples and building peace; and on behalf of our partner networks such as the Friends of the Bangsamoro (FoBM), an umbrella movement and platform of citizens, NGOs and peoples organizations from both inside and outside Mindanao supporting the Bangsamoro –even beyond the passage of the BBL and the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW)– the broadest civil society network of peacebuilders for and in Mindanao, I thank this august committee for giving us this honor and space, and hope that you continue to provide, nay, institutionalize the participation of civil society in deliberations not only in forward-looking laws such as this, but in all relevant processes of Congress.

Let me state outright that we are here to primarily support the passage of the proposed BBL. But like you and the members of your eminent committee and together with our partner networks, sectors and groups, we are also here to help enhance the bill. Thus we will be submitting proposals that will hopefully ensure peace and Human Security in the Bangsamoro.

Before I proceed any further, let me also state that as civil society, we are not here to discuss nor debate the legal or constitutional ramifications of the proposed law. This is not our competency, nor our main concern. This is the purview — albeit not the sole one– of this able Committee aided by the rich opinions of legal luminaries and stalwarts – be they graduates of the best school in Diliman, the best law school in Quiapo, Yale, Harvard, Cambridge, or Columbia — whom you have invited yesterday and will still do so in the coming hearings.

To us, the BBL is a product of a political settlement and is thus also a political document. We are likewise a party to that settlement, in fact, to the process that achieved the same.

We are thus here today Mr. Chairman, to share not only our thoughts but also more so our feelings about this foremost political document– from the perspective of ordinary citizens who are your constituencies, your voters — both from within and outside the proposed Bangsamoro entity. We are here to echo the voices from the ground, of the victims and survivors of the decades-old violent conflict, the women and children, the internally displaced persons (IDPs), the orphans, widows, beaten men and their scattered, shattered families and communities.

We are here Honorable Members of this Committee, to tell the story of Babu Umbay, who never gave up the dream of attaining peace in her lifetime despite being a refugee all her 80 years. She was one of our stalwarts in the incipient days of the Bantay Ceasefire, a very willing, always smiling and able “watcher”, but also an inspiring model, mentor and resource person in our lobbying sorties who disarmed no less than the former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in one urgent visit to Malacanang during the height of the Buliok siege in 2004. She died just a few days before the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was inked.

We are here to tell the story of Fr. Bert Layson, who has quietly served parishes in Jolo, Pikit and Columbio, paying no heed to his safety in driving his battered SUV in the middle of conflict zones to rescue mostly Moro civilian refugees while at the same time trying to bridge Moro and Christian communities through inter-faith activities in the midst of war. Fr. Bert once poignantly wrote, “The enemy of war is war itself”.

We are here to tell the story of Datu Al Saliling, a Lumad leader who was a refugee; a former combatant of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who became a member of a technical committee of the government peace panel, and who eventually decided to remain a grassroots negotiator. When the 9-11 terrorist attacks occurred in New York, I remember Datu Al telling a stunned multi-stakeholder assembly: “Now the Americans, no, the world knows what terrorism is all about. As for us in our war-ravaged communities, we experience it everyday”.

There are thousands of other stories to tell.

Stories of heroism of both soldiers and mujahedeen. Of how more than 10,000 refugees lined up the main highway in Central Mindanao to demand a ceasefire from both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at the height of the so-called Buliok war. And how that ceasefire came to pass a few days after.

Of how ordinary citizens bonded together with us and other partner NGOs to establish an effective tri-people grassroots ceasefire watch mechanism.

To paraphrase the great revolutionary poet, Eman Lacaba, there are stories to tell of the “countless faceless, voiceless, nameless and tribe-less whose faces, voices, names and tribes are all ours.”

We are here as peace advocates but more so as ordinary Filipino citizens who hail mostly from Mindanao accompanied by our fellow Filipinos from outside our beloved island who resonate with our issues, our concerns and our dreams.

We are Settlers, we are Lumads, and we are Moro. But we are all Filipinos.

So today, “Peace” is no longer a slogan but a living reality we can actually grasp and nurture. The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) and its allied networks such as the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), Friends of the Bangsamoro (FoBM) and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) appreciates that the process of crafting the BBL has expanded our country’s assets for peace-building and created favorable conditions for genuine peace. However, IID is aware that even if Congress passes the BBL into law, it will not automatically produce lasting peace and Human Security.

We salute the heroic efforts of the principals of the peace process- the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) specially through their negotiating panels in crafting this law through years of committed, sometimes hard, sometimes painful and lonely negotiations. But we also pay tribute to the efforts of citizens themselves specially those affected by the conflict and that of civil society who may have helped galvanize the peace that we have so far achieved.

We are all stakeholders of what Congress will be giving birth here. We are all handmaidens, nay, and owners of the BBL.

The BBL can indeed contribute to the advancement of peace and Human Security or the overall human condition in the Bangsamoro — and to the entire country for that matter– which has been ravaged by decades of armed conflict; however, IID believes that without the proper mechanisms, the potential for sharing in the dividends of peace will remain limited to an elite few, creating new conditions for conflicts to erupt. Thus we hope that this Committee will ensure that grassroots and civil society’s voices in the Bangsamoro be institutionalized in its various governance mechanisms.

History is replete with examples of post peace agreement violence erupting. Unless it is aimed toward the common good, the BBL cannot effectively respond to the needs of its constituencies. Crucial in dealing with the complexities of institutionalizing the Bangsamoro political entity, good governance must ensure solidarity and citizenship. IID believes that in involving people in good governance we must actively promote diversity, accountability, democratic principles, and inclusive political culture. The fundamental idea of Human Security is that the law and those tasked to govern must put the rights and welfare of citizens at the forefront. IID believes that Congress has the ability and obligation to guarantee Human Security in the Bangsamoro. Ensuring that this becomes the operational framework of the Bangsamoro can be the 16th Congress’ lasting legacy for the Bangsamoro, and thus for the country.

IID is convinced that the BBL in its present form can still be enhanced in order to fully respond to the common good. In this regard, IID proposes the addition of the principle of human security in the Preamble, and moreover an Article to cover the creation of a Human Security Commission that will address the impact of horizontal cultural asymmetry in the Bangsamoro, ensure the honorable demobilization of MILF combatants, transitional justice, and serve as a catalyst for peacebuilding and development in the Bangsamoro.

The Commission we envision is an independent, multi-stakeholder body that will be tasked to give full accounting of the social impact of the Bangsamoro on its constituents and propose recommendations to address issues and prevent conflicts from recurring as well as to build on or enhance best practice.

The bottom line is to bring the Bangsamoro political entity closer to the people on a day-to-day basis free from the vagaries of politics.

IID with its networks and partners is party to majority of civil society engagements with the GRP/GPH and the MILF and we have conducted numerous consultations between and among the various constituencies who will be impacted by the Bangsamoro political entity- including those outside Mindanao. IID has always supported innovative and effective ways of establishing partnerships that serve to strengthen Human Security. IID looks forward to offering its support to the crafting of a BBL that best benefit the Bangsamoro and the Filipino nation.

We now look forward to the collective wisdom of this Committee and the entire 16th Congress to bring the torch of peace closer to the finish line of hope, freedom, progress and lasting harmony.

Maraming, maraming Salamat po!

(Gus Miclat is the Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), Secretary-General of the Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), a Convener of the Friends of the Bangsamoro (FoBM), and the Co-Chair of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). )