Passing on the Torch of Peace: Speech at Assumption College – San Lorenzo Peace Week 2015

To the administrators, teaching staff and other personnel and employees of the Assumption College-San Lorenzo, led by Sr. Anna Carmela Pesongco, R.A.,

To the organizers of the Peace Seminar, especially the Assumption Student Council and the Dean of Student Affairs, Atty. Armee Javellana,

To the students of Assumption College in attendance this morning,

Dear parents, esteemed guests and friends,

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!

Thank you for your warm welcome and for inviting me here at Assumption to be a part of your Peace Week 2015. I consider this a great honor to join you in this celebration of the value of peace in our lives.

First, allow me to thank and commend the entire Assumption San Lorenzo community for organizing this Peace Week, which is a very timely and socially relevant school activity considering that we are now on Day 1 of the “National Peace Consciousness” month—made all the more special and relevant since it comes right on the heels of our “National Heroes Day”, which we have just commemorated yesterday.

But wait there’s more! Not only is September our “National Peace Consciousness” month, it is also our country’s official “Anti-Rat Campaign Month” and also “Obesity Prevention Month”, among other important government observances. And so, thankfully, we are also reminded by our government about these two other important and official commemorations, which, without mincing words, have great impact on our health and well-being!

No, but seriously, kidding aside, I also say that this Peace Week of yours is very timely and socially relevant, since it was genuinely fostered by your school’s recent participation, and solidarity with the rest of the world, in the commemoration of the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki some seventy (70) years ago. I thank and commend you for going on such a very powerful and engaging educational field trip, and for having done such a very empathetic gesture of solidarity and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Japan. As you know, after the tragic World War, Japan has since been our dependable and supportive friend and ally in the community of nations. Napakaraming naitulong at patuloy na naitutulong sa atin ang bansang Hapon.

It is thus in this sense that I consider the entire studentry of Assumption college “ambassadors of peace and goodwill”. Having been directly and personally touched by the whole human affair, I highly urge you to spread to the entire Filipino people the painful yet important lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You are bound by strong moral duty to “pass on the torch”, so to speak, to the rest of our fellow Filipinos here in this beloved land of ours. Again, thank you for playing the role of ambassadors—unofficial yet genuine and effective ones—both for the Philippines and for the people of Japan!

Certainly, there are lots more to be done on this delicate subject. Japan’s Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, himself a Hiroshima native, conveyed recently that there still remains 16,000 nuclear warheads stockpiled in the armories of powerful countries around the world. And so he made the impassioned call for the youth of the world to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to help disarm the dangerous potency of the minds of world leaders to still find use for the atomic bomb. Again, I thank the Assumption College community for heeding the call of Japan, and the call of humanity.

On this note, allow me then to segue to the particular reflection that I want to contribute for your Peace Week 2015. Although it is unimaginable, let alone physically impossible, that the Philippines will be perceived to be engaged in the “nuclear arms race” or in the production, stockpiling, utilization of nuclear weapons (as we simply do not have the money and the capability), our country is nonetheless in a particular and peculiar situation now where it is forced to stare in the eyes and confront its own monumental peace and order situation.

You may have learned in the news that two weeks, I filed in the Senate the modified version of the bill on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which was originally proposed by Malacañang.

Pero unang-una, ano nga ba talaga itong BBL?

I hope you are all aware of a basic Philippine constitutional principle that certain parts of Mindanao are declared to be on a different political status in relation to the national government, and in comparison with other local government units, say, for example, the City of Makati or the province of Ilocos Norte.

This area in Muslim Mindanao has been recognized under Article 10 of the Constitution as an “AUTONOMOUS REGION”, alongside the Cordillera Region. In essence, they are an aggrupation of local government units, which share a “common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage”. Ibig sabihin, may “KASARINLAN” sila. But note, however, that the concept of “autonomy” is essentially and substantially different from “independence”. So while they may be viewed as “autonomous”, they are NOT “independent” from the Philippines.

And right now, this certain part of Mindanao is called by the legal description “the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao”, or simply the “ARMM”. The grant of their autonomy has been enfleshed in a law enacted by Congress. We had RA 6734 in 1989, and then we had RA 9054 in 2001.

Para sa inyong kaalaman, ang Cordillera Region, wala pa. Despite two attempts to operationalize its autonomy in 1990 and 1998, parehong hindi sumang-ayon ang mga tao sa mga plebisito noon. Hindi nito nakamit ang matamis na “OO” ng taumbayan.

Sa Muslim Mindanao naman, ikatlong pagkakataon na itong BBL na kung saan babalikan at aayusin ang kasarinlan ng rehiyon na ito.

Now, to put in proper perspective this BBL, we as an entire nation are now trying to renegotiate this grant of autonomy to the ARMM. During the previous legislations, it was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that stood as the negotiator for the ARMM. Ngayon naman, ang Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) na ang kausap ng ating pamahalaan. At sa halip na ARMM ang kanilang gustong itawag sa kanilang autonomous region, “Bangsamoro” na ang gusto nilang pangalan.

And in doing all these, we are governed and guided by the framework of our constitutional democracy. Hence, we have to follow the rules and precepts ordained by our Constitution.

To recall what you have learned in your Political Science 101, the form of government that is ordained and authorized under our 1987 Constitution is a unitary, presidential, republican form of government. On the national level, we have the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and the independent constitutional bodies.

Then, on the local level, we have what are called the “territorial and political subdivisions” of our country, or our local government units, a most popular example of which is your very own, City of Makati. These LGUs also enjoy local autonomy, though not in the same degree allowed for the ARMM and the Cordilleras. Notwithstanding the grant of autonomy under the law, the President still has the power of general supervision over both the LGUs and the autonomous regions.

Because of the primacy of our Constitution, the BBL must follow certain basic principles of the Constitution, both in its SUBSTANCE and in the PROCEDURE for its enactment and enforcement.

1) The Agreements between the MILF and “Government of the Philippines” (GPH) do not bind the entire Philippine Government.

Kung maaalala ninyo, meron nang kasunduan sa pagitan ng MILF at ang GPH. Sa katunayan, ito ang nagbunsod ng tinaguriang “original draft” na BBL. But we have to understand that the agreements do not bind the Congress. Neither does it bind the Supreme Court, much less the entire country. Even if you see the acronym “GPH”, giving the impression of the entire Philippine government, it should be deemed to cover and bind the Executive Department, the President or the Malacañang only. Anyway, it is our President that claimed in the first place that the ARMM was a “failed experiment”.

Yes, our President said that!

2) Congress, through the power of lawmaking, not only has the authority to enact the MILF-GPH original draft of the BBL, but also to correlative power to change its terms to make it faithful and amenable to the provisions of the Constitution and to ensure the balanced and inclusive development of our country and of the people.

In school, we have all learned that under our present Constitution, Congress is the lawmaking body, not the President. Ibig sabihin, kailangan muna talagang dumaan sa Kongreso nitong BBL bago ito maging ganap na batas—anuman ang nilalaman ng orihinal na BBL, at anuman ang napagkasunduan ng GPH at ng MILF.

Pero ang problema—ANG MALAKING PROBLEMA—ay lumabas sa aming mga pagdinig sa Senado na marami pala sa probisyon ng BBL ang labag sa ating Saligang Batas!

Kaya ang aking ginawa ay minabuti kong humingi ng isang pauna at pampaganang lecture o sermon mula sa aming dalubhasa sa Senado sa Saligang Batas, na si Senador Miriam Santiago. Ang ginawa ni Senador Miriam ay inimbitahan niya ang mga magagaling at matitinik na mga utak sa Saligang Batas upang pag-aralan itong BBL, at kung ito nga ba ay naaayon sa ating Saligang Batas.

Sa kasawiang-palad, ipinagtibay ng Report ni Senador Miriam ang aming mga naunang hinala: LABAG TALAGA SA KONSTITUSYON ANG BBL!

‘Ika nga ng sikat na sikat na libro ngayon ni Senador Miriam: “STUPID IS FOREVER”!

Ang gusto raw di-umano ng BBL ay gawing isang “part-sovereign state” o isang “sub-state” ang tinaguriang “Bangsamoro”. Allegedly, it has all the elements of a State under the Montevideo Convention, namely: 1) Permanent population; 2) Defined territory; and 3) Capacity to enter into relations with other States.

So I had to make sure that the Bangsamoro proposal would not turn the ARMM into a “sub-state”. The national and territorial integrity of the Philippines should be preserved and protected. The Bangsamoro proposal should not contain provisions leading to opportunities for secession or breaking away. The matter of defense, security, and peace and order in the Bangsamoro should always remain with the national government.

I also had to make sure that provisions leading to normalcy in the area were contained in the substitute bill. I fully agree that peace and development in Muslim Mindanao are as much the primary objectives of the BBL, as the grant of enhanced autonomy. Hence, we included provisions on the so-called “normalization of communities” and on the “decommissioning of forces”—WHICH WERE NOT AT ALL INCLUDED IN THE ORIGINAL DRAFT OF THE BILL.

If we really want peace and order to be achieved in Muslim Mindanao, then why were these important government responsibilities omitted?

Ang punto po lamang ay ganito: kapalit at kasabay dapat ng mas malawak na autonomiya o kasarinlan, ay meron din dapat kaakibat na mas taos-pusong pagtigil sa pakikipaglaban sa gobyerno, mas taos-pusong pagbababa ng mga armas at paglalansag ng mga armadong grupo.

We have to disarm—literally and figuratively—a portion of our people who are so used to or so steeped in a culture of arms-bearing, fighting and killing. The enactment of the BBL is also a time for our brothers and sisters to lay down arms, and replace them with plows, tools of trade, books, computers, and other wholesome and more potent materials of creation—and not of destruction—and other building blocks of social development and progress.

In fact, these were some of the valuable lessons we have learned from the Mamasapano tragedy in January of this year. We were able to appreciate the importance of achieving lasting PEACE in Mindanao. We were taught about the virtue of TRUST. Remember that the MILF was involved in this deadly skirmish—the very same organization that our government had been exclusively talking to and negotiating with the past several years about (quite ironically) the quest for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.

It is just very unfortunate that it had to take the lives of 44 brave SAF policemen—in the line of duty fighting for the cause of peace and against global terrorism—for us to be reminded of these important goals. But at the very least, we were greatly comforted by the thought that our Fallen 44 heroes had given their lives not only for the single valiant purpose of bringing fugitives to justice, but for more important and transcendental reasons: that of revealing imperfections and weaknesses in the peace process in Muslim Mindanao.

So in my sponsorship speech, I deemed it prudent and made it a point to pay tribute to the memory of our “Fallen SAF 44”, whom I sincerely consider agents and catalysts of peace in our beloved country. May they forever be remembered by our grateful nation.

3) Supreme Court’s authority to declare a law unconstitutional

Kailangan naming pag-aralang mabuti ang BBL. Hindi pwedeng bara-bara. Hindi pwedeng “bahala-na-si-Batman” ang mentality. Hindi pwedeng “rak-en-rol-to-the-world!” lamang ang approach namin. Ika nga ng mga kabataan ngayon, kailangang pag-aralang “pa-more” ang BBL! Kasi, naririyan lang ang Korte Suprema sa may Padre Faura, Manila na siyang nakabantay at nakaabang sa ilalabas na batas ng Kongreso, at naghihintay sa anumang magiging reklamo ng ating mamamayan na ang BBL ay labag sa ating Konstitusyon.

Or else, all the painstaking work of Congress could just end up being another sumptuous target of a petition by a concerned and well-meaning Filipino taxpayer for certiorari and prohibition with the Supreme Court on the ground of unconstitutionality!

2) Amendment and revision of the Constitution

If the BBL that were to spring forth from Congress is
eventually striken down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, then what happens? Is it the end of the road for the proponents?

If the proponents are really bent on passing the BBL in the exact shape and form as drafted by the Palace and the MILF, then there would be no other legal recourse but to initiate a coordinate move of amending or revising of the Constitution. This is in order to accommodate and make possible all the drastic changes in our existing government structures and institutions called for under the BBL.

Thus, under the Article XVII of the Constitution, said proposed constitutional changes shall be done by Congress either through direct action, upon a vote of three-fourths (3/4) of all its Members; or through a Constitutional Convention. This particular view is shared by eminent legal minds, most notably by former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.

As of the moment, we are in the stages of interpellations and amendments of the substitute BBL bill in Congress, for further refinement and improvement of the BBL, before it is finally brought to the floor for voting and for passage into law. Presidential approval is to be expected in all probability, since he is behind the proposal anyway. But even so after the President signs the law into a Republic Act, the law shall ultimately be laid down before the affected people of Muslim Mindanao for their ratification at a plebiscite wherein they will have to answer the important question: “DO YOU APPROVE OF THE BASIC LAW FOR THE BANGSAMORO AUTONOMOUS REGION?

These are the peaceful, unifying, and constitutional ways of doing it. In the name of peace, let these be done.

No shortcuts. No railroading. No threats of violence. No threats of war.

I have worked so hard and risked so much for this proposed legislation to reach this stage. Just a month ago, we found a bullet hole through the glass of my office with a bullet slug on the floor. But I am not rattled or shaken at all. I will do everything to make sure that all the hardwork will not be just put to waste or set at naught—especially on the mere whims and caprices of unseen forces working and weaving their magic behind the scenes.

Your humble public servant assures our youth and our posterity that as an elected representative of the Filipino people, entrusted with the life and the future of our nation, I will continue the valiant struggles of our heroes and our patriots by ensuring that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country are kept intact and respected by all, and our people united by a common aspiration for genuine and lasting peace, order, justice and development not only in Mindanao but in our entire country as well.

I hope that you are able to pick up important lessons about our topic this morning, because of its sheer importance to our life as a nation, and to our lives as a Filipino people, especially to you—our youth. As the future of our great land, you shall be inheriting the country and the society that we—your progenitors and forbears—are now shaping and molding in your behalf. What we are doing now is HISTORY IN THE MAKING.

And by your proactive interest in learning the peace implications underlying the BBL, inspired by the virtues envisioned by St. Marie-Eugénie de Jésus, you too can be instrumental pieces of social transformation in our country—true to vision and mission of the Assumption College. You too can contribute in the writing of this particular chapter of our history.

So, I urge you to be involved in your own ways as youthful, exuberant, dynamic and proactive students. I also humbly ask for your support, your patience and your understanding.

Let me end on that note, my dear students. Thank you for your time and attention.

Nawa’y patuloy na mag-alab sa ating mga puso at isipan ang diwa ng mga nagawa ng ating mga bayani upang itaguyod ang KAPAYAPAAN sa ating bansa na siyang ating tinatamasa ngayon!

Mabuhay ang Assumption College-San Lorenzo!

Mabuhay ang ating mga bayani!

Maghari nawa ang kapayapaan sa ating bansa!

Maraming salamat po at magandang umagang muli sa inyong lahat!

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