Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Unlike parachute journalists and analysts, bishops of Mindanao have put in many decades of service there, and it’s significant that of its 24 bishops 19 are against BBL in its present form, and only five are for it. Of these five bishops, however, two have reservations about certain aspects. Congrats to Sen. Bongbong Marcos for doing what the House failed to do---to give lengthy voice to various parties in Mindanao, such as governors of affected and nearby provinces, indigenous peoples, etc.

Archbishop Emeritus of Davao Fernando Capalla

With the Bangsamoro Basic Law in limbo after the House of Representatives decided, due to perceived lack of adequate support, to postpone voting on this controversial bill for August or even October, we Filipinos now have more time to deliberate on the  issues that many of us  feel passionate about.  That the people are bitterly divided over the BBL is a given, but that more are against it---as it now stands-- is conceded by the administration.   

Thank God that solons in the House received enough enlightenment to desist from forcing a vote. Bigger thanks, however,  to the Senate committee chaired by Sen. Bongbong Marcos for ventilating various issues hounding this controversial draft law---by inviting all those whose views the nation should have heard from the very beginning, e.g., governors of the provinces composing the proposed Bangsamoro as well those in the periphery, and various indigenous peoples. This was not done by the House which sought to railroad the BBL before President Aquino’s SONA, but luckily the Senate committee stood pat.


A recent news item bannered that admirals and generals are opposed to the BBL and very likely there are those. But equally interesting is the fact that the religious sector, led by the Catholic Bishops, appears to be overwhelmingly divided between the small but influential group  that’s pro-BBL, led by Cardinals Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila and Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato and Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, vs. the bigger group against the BBL in its present form, that includes Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Archbishop Emeritus of Davao Fernando Capalla and many other bishops especially in Mindanao.

In fact, of the 24 bishops of Mindanao, I gather that 19 of them are AGAINST the BBL, while only five are FOR it;  of the five, two are even said to entertain reservations about some aspects of it. Prominent among the Mindanao bishops against the BBL in its present form, aside from  Archbishop  Emeritus Fernando Capalla, are  Archbishop of Zamboanga Romulo dela Cruz, who was once Bishop Prelate of Isabela de Basilan, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, Cotabato, and Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan. Also against the BBL in its present form are a number of prominent religious there, such as Fr. Eliseo Mercado OMI, of Cotabato’s Notre Dame University.

What is significant  is that the bishops and other religious of Mindanao know of the situation in their areas, so that when they object to certain aspects of the BBL it should carry a lot of weight. The bishops are not parachute journalists or analysts--- many of them have had their ears on the ground in this huge island for many decades and they know what’s good for their people.

For instance, 80-year old Archbishop Emeritus Capalla, who spent 40 years in Mindanao as bishop, was a co-founder of the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) that successfully carried on dialogues for peaceful co-existence among the various faiths in the big island over some years. Was Capalla and his group ever asked to testify on the BBL?


A regular correspondent of this blogger did just that. He recently sent some questions on the BBL to Archbishop Emeritus Capalla, both in his capacity as co-founder of the BUC and a leading member of the National Transformation Council that proposes the radical transformation of  the nation’s values, regime change and ultimately system change. These are his questions to Capalla: 

l). Are the MILF and other militant Moro groups still listening to the BUC and if not, why not? 

2). Does the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) 
still take the BUC seriously, and if not, why not?  

3). What would be the best course of action the BUC can do at the moment?


This is the reply of Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla to these questions:

“First of all, let me point out that together with Archbishops Ramon Arguelles and Romulo de la Cruz, Bishops Villena and Pueblos, other members of the National Transformation Council and the Philconsa, we are petitioning the Supreme Court to declare the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the “mother document” of the BBL, unconstitutional. If this is done, it would render the BBL useless. This is the official stand of the NTC. Of course, we know the powers of this de facto president who has ignored the rule of law several times. 

“Out of respect for our two cardinals, many bishops who are against the BBL do not speak out in public. Now to your questions:

“The MILF used to listen to the BUC before, especially since they had to get BUC’s help for the resumption of peace talks with the government under President GMA. When the MOA-AD was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, they asked the BUC for a meeting to explain their stand. But when they got the support of BS Aquino & Co., they stopped communications with BUC anymore.

“Just before they continued peace negotiations with the present government in 2010, BUC gave them the result of the region-wide consultation on the peace talks carried out professionally by Catholic, Muslim and Protestant universities in Mindanao under BUC supervision which contains a road map for peace. No word from them about this till now. We don't know why. We have unverified suspicions. 

“OPAPP under Ms. Deles has totally ignored BUC since 2010. The main reason apparently is that she and her boss President Aquino  identify BUC with the  GMA administration. There are other serious reasons which must remain unsaid.

“In our BUC assembly in December 2013 and  in 2014 we discussed the Moro problem and its related issues. It was then that I began to notice the emerging division among the Ulama and the seemingly diminishing interest among Catholic and Protestant bishops. So in answer to your third question, BUC cannot make a plan on the best course of action under the present situation. In the meantime I decided not to call a meeting of the board or the assembly, as only a splinter group of the Ulama League would attend. The Catholics and Protestant members would also be just a handful. Thus the assembly would not constitute a quorum.

“To me my personal course of action is to work with NTC for peaceful regime change first, then system change later. I have a feeling as a result of some info from the grassroots that with or without BBL, trouble cannot be avoided. Yes, it cannot except through this change of government in the soonest way possible. And rumors of a possible Islamic enclave in the proposed sub-state, in preparation for a caliphate run by ISIS terrorists, are extremely troubling and worse.

“We hope and pray that NTC plans, which will be known in full in due time, would  generate popular support. Among others, it includes reinventing the BUC as a deterrent to the success of a caliphate.

“My 40 years as bishop in Mindanao---17 of which were spent in Iligan City, Marawi City, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and the rest in Davao City, rubbing elbows with Indigenous Peoples, Muslims and Christians of diverse religious traditions---have made me realize that the so called historical injustice done to Lumads and Muslims cannot be resolved by giving them a sub-state or a federated region which is a political solution. From the perspective of faith, Jews, Christians and Muslims, are children of Abraham; thus, THE REAL SOLUTION TO THE MORO PROBLEM, BEYOND POLITICS, IS A BASIC ABRAHAMIC COMMUNITY WHERE JEWS, CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS LIVE TOGETHER IN PEACE, understood as Shalom (Hebrew). From Shalom is derived Salam (arabic for peace) and from which is derived Islam, the religion of peace. ‘For Christians Christ is our Shalom/Peace( Eph. 2:14).’

“Some of our BUC members believe this is possible. In fact several Muslim and Protestant couples, Catholic bishops, priests and women religious have volunteered to be part of the experimental community. Since Lumads believe in the integrity of creation (which is the real meaning of ‘shalom’), they can be part of the community. We were looking for a lot in Samal Island for this project when the present regime came into being. 

“Part of my personal self-assumed task is to convince NTC members, especially the religious sector (Christians and Muslims), of the need for prayer and self-sacrifice. As has been said over and over again, NATIONAL TRANSFORMATION NEEDS TRANSFORMED CHANGE-AGENTS. For, nothing and no one, to use an acceptable interfaith language, matures to perfection without pain or something similar to pain.

“Feel free to share this email with anyone. Please say One Hail Mary for me.”

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