The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) lost no time in making capital of Pope Francis’ virtual endorsement of government’s current efforts to establish a new Bangsamoro political order in Mindanao.
In his brief message during his courtesy call on Pres. Aquino in Malacanang last January 16, the Pope said: “In a particular way, I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities”. Additionally, before he took off from Rome for his pastoral visit to the Philippines via Sri Lanka, he also noted “with pleasure that last March an agreement was signed to end long years of tension in the Philippines,” referring obviously to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) deal. The accord serves as the framework and terms of reference for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill – certified as urgent by the Chief Executive – which is now being deliberated on by Congress.
Peace Secretary Teresita Deles called those remarks as the Pope’s “blessing” to the peace deal. She emphasized that “we receive the papal message as a clarion call to all persons of good will to work even harder, collectively harnessing the power of hope and perseverance, to overcome all obstacles and push national consensus towards a just and peaceful settlement of the armed conflict that has divided our people for too long.” In so saying, she observed that the BBL would continue to encounter challenges. Even principal protagonist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its recent statements has all resigned itself to the likelihood of some such challenge on constitutional questions before the Supreme Court.
Hence, the Pope’s not so insignificant praise and support for the peace process may yet dampen considerably the intensity of those feared challenges. His “blessing” may all be the needed tipping point, the little miracle, to turn the BBL into a concrete, working reality by 2016.
If Francis’ positive words will indeed bring about such a result, it will be a vindication of his exhortations, often made loudly, for interreligious dialogue and action as a way to social peace and justice as well. (Towards the end the talks in Kuala Lumpur became more of collaboration rather than negotiation.) Local interreligious advocates can make the same claim, for these have worked long and hard often in the face of opposition to make inter-communal, spiritually-guided encounters as a way to peace-building.
Hopefully, the CAB-BBL will not be the only beneficiary of the Pope’s growing influence in world and human affairs and mass popularity. The record-breaking turnout of Filipinos to attend the various activities in his 5-day visit, the dramatic assemblies and earth-shaking dialogues and the words of wisdom he sowed and to each of which people clang, are reflections of the requited love between host and guest. It is love inflamed by the Christian faith, motivated by the equal hopes for salvation in both afterlife and this. In his own prophetic words the Pope came because he sees the great sufferings of his Filipino flock, and to us he came to save us from our wars, poverties, injustices and all of those other deadly sins and evils.