Archbishop Emeritus Fernando R. Capalla breaks his silence on the matter

For seven years now, the Ignatian Institute of Religious Education Foundation under Fr. William Malley, S.J. has asked ecumenical stalwart Archbishop Capalla to give a lecture on Peace and Interfaith Dialogue. This year focused on an important aspect of the Mindanao peace process – a “missing link” which gardeners found at once poignant, interesting, instructive, and inspiring.

At the outset the good bishop clarified that the phrase “peace process,” as used here, is “limited to the activities of the Philippine Government and MILF, not to the entire efforts of promoting the culture of peace and other interfaith undertakings through dialogue and collaboration that lead to peace.”

He wanted to point out “a vital link that has been missing in the on-going peace process involving the Philippine Government and the revolutionary rebel group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).  The link refers to the participation and collaboration of the religious leaders in Mindanao who are Catholic bishops, Muslim Ulama, and Protestant bishops and pastors who participated in the peace process either as individuals or as an association.” 

The term ‘missing’ “means that a major association of religious leaders, like the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC), was dropped from the chain of peace builders from July 2010 till the present and was no longer consulted/invited by gov’t during this period.”

What were the reasons for his talking about this topic now? FIRST, to put on record an important fact in the history of the peace process in Mindanao.  SECOND, to appreciate the value and significance of this link and its absence in the relationship between government and the rebel group.  THIRD, to understand why BUC as religious group was bypassed during the four years and a half of the BS Aquino 3rd administration.  FOURTH, the contribution the BUC gave to the GRP-MILF Peace Panels and to the peace process in general.  And FIFTH, to express certain serious concerns about what is happening these days in Mindanao and in the National Capitol Region.”

How It All Began[1]   

  1. The involvement of the religious leaders began with the official proclamation of the peace process by Fidel V. Ramos, in September 1992, two months after his inauguration as president of the Republic. With an Executive Order he created the National Unification Commission (NUC) among whose mandates was to obtain reliable data on the roots of rebellion through a nationwide consultation. He then appointed Capalla and a Protestant Church leader Bishop Dr. Feliciano Carino as representatives of the religious sector in the Commission.  Atty. Haydee Yorac was appointed chairperson and Capalla as the vice chair with the consent of then CBCP President Zamboanga Archbishop Carmelo Morelos.  Other members were Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Bobby Tanada, Congressmen Eduardo Ermita and Jose Yap, Exec Sec. Frank Drilon and AFP Chief Rene de Villa.  This was a major contribution of the Catholic and Protestant bishops and pastors of the NCCP churches in the consultations.  The consultations were done through the dioceses, parishes and pastorates.
  1. After the consultations, Pres. Ramos created the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) with Ret. Gen. Manual Yan and Atty. Nabil Tan as chairman and vice-chairman respectively. From 1992 to 1996 as the peace talks between the GRP and MNLF panels were going on, OPAPP prepared the Muslim, Christian and Lumad communities on the ground for the coming negotiated peace agreement with the help of the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue (ECID) which Capalla chaired. His staff initiated interfaith dialogues with Muslims and Lumads throughout Mindanao.  They helped OPAPP organize Peace Zones in Muslim dominated areas.  This was a significant contribution of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue.  In justifying its annual budget to congress, OPAPP presented major projects which were ECID’s programs and activities.  The ECID-OPAPP tie-up started with the Ramos presidency, and continued into the Estrada government. This BUC-OPAPP partnership continued until the last years of the Arroyo administration.
  1. Before the Ramos Government started formal peace talks CPP/NPA/NDF Ambassador Howard Dee, newly appointed head of the GRP peace panel, sent Capalla alone to Utrecht, Netherlands, to inquire from Joma Sison and Luis Jalandoni on the possibility of peace negotiation. They agreed. Weeks later formal contacts were established.  Capalla declined membership in the GRP panel to maintain a neutral role in the peace negotiations.
  1. In March 1996 announcement was made that the draft of the negotiated Peace Agreement of the Ramos Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Chairman Nur Misuari was almost finished and would be signed in September of that year, four years after the nationwide consultation on the roots of rebellion. Remembering the help of the religious leaders in that consultation the President sent Rev. Fr. Romeo Intengan, SJ, to Capalla as chair of CBCP-ECID and to Dr. Mahid Mutilan, head of the Ulama League of the Philippines (ULP). He carried a proposal from the president that Christian and Muslim religious leaders should organize themselves into an association that would help in the implementation of the coming peace accord with the MNLF.
  1. On 2 September 1996 the GRP-MILF Peace Pact brokered by Indonesia was signed in Malacanang Palace in formal ceremonies attended by high government officials, ambassadors of Manila-based foreign embassies and especially by the officials of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). On 29 November 1996 after 5 months of one-on-one consultation with all Mindanao bishops the Bishop-Ulama Forum (BUF) was finally organized and inaugurated in simple ceremonies in Cebu City in the presence of Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, OPAPP officials and the Davao-based Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
  1. BUC activities appreciated

  1. From 1996 till 1998 the remaining two years of the Ramos administration and during the Estrada and Arroyo presidencies the BUF was the talk of the town and a favorite topic and photo of media. The reason was its being unique and unprecedented in the social history of Mindanao and the country.  The public image of Muslim Ulama and Catholic bishops had a calming effect on people previously living in the widespread atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.  The 24 Catholic bishops and 24 Muslim Ulama meeting monthly as a board and twice yearly as general assembly was something of a novelty.  The over-all effect of their assemblies, conferences and board meetings somehow created a sense of hope and trust in the peace negotiations as well as the value and importance of interfaith dialogue.  Added to this prominence was the inclusion of the 18 Protestant bishops and pastors in May 1998.  Being the only tripartite association of bishops and ulama in the world now known as the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC), the association got nationwide and international attention by UNESCO because of the following activities:

BUC a) condemned the murder of Oblate bishop Ben de Jesus of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo; b) held an exchange of bibles and Qur’an copies among members; c) visited churches and mosques; d) held a 3-day general assembly with wives and children of ulama, protestant bishops; e) had outing in Paradise Beach Resort considered one effective moment of dialogue; f) had a sharing on Christian and Islamic methods of prayer in the presence of the Papal Nuncio; g) helped in the release of kidnapped priests; h) negotiated with CPP/NPA/NDF officials in Utrecht with approval of Pres. Estrada for the release of AFP Gen. Obillo and Capt. Montealto; i) held conference on Mariam in the Qu’ran and Mary in the Bible; j) had seminar on peace and development in both scriptures; k) held a daring BUC general assembly in Jolo; l) started the region wide celebration of the Mindanao Week of Peace; m) established the Mindanao Tripartite Youth Core; n) created the Aima-Priests-Pastors Forum; o) organized the AFP-PNP-BUC Peace Forum; p) established the Archdiocesan Center for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue (ACEID) in Davao City; q) BUC was identified by Saint Pope John Paul II as one effective implementor of the Assisi Peace Accord and Pope Benedict the XVI recognized BUC as gov’t peace partner in his welcome speech to Lady Tuason when she presented her credentials as Philippine ambassador to the Holy See/Vatican State.

III. Chain Broken/Link Out

  1. From the beginning BUF/BUC has been a close dialogue and peace    partner of government through its Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).  Almost all activities of BUC were also considered OPAPP’s activities because of the latter’s financial assistance. When an OPAPP official (now with BS Aquino in the same office) began bypassing BUC in gov’t sponsored peace activities and treating BUC as government entity and BUC members and staff as gov’t employees the relationship began to sour.  BUC leadership then decided to opt out of gov’t structure.  To continue availing of gov’t assistance BUC created an NGO named Mateo Veintecinco Development Foundation (MVDF), and applied for funding to the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).  It was granted.  From then on OPAPP completely ignored BUC in many of its activities until this office changed its leadership to people appreciative of BUC.  Then the Arroyo gov’t began sending BUC as member of its delegation to international peace conferences organized by the UN.  When the Pakistani government asked Pres. Arroyo for help in conducting a peace process she sent the BUC board of directors to Islamabad City where they met and dialogued with many religious leaders in Pakistan.  This was in early January 2010.  Their last activity as earlier mentioned was the meeting with officials of the National Defense Department and all the AFP generals and all the PNP chief superintendents.
  1. Then in July of 2010 BS Aquino came into the presidency until the present. He began attacking former Pres. Arroyo and those whom his cohorts identified with her and put her in jail on plunder charges but without being convicted. Those who had cooperated with the Arroyo administration were maligned, harassed with court cases or simply ignored.  BUC has been ignored in the peace process of the past four years and almost forgotten.  People could not help asking, “Where is BUC?” – when 19 AFP soldiers were killed in Al-Barka, Basilan, when 10,000 MNLF recruits and 50,000 Muslims and Christians were left homeless after the stand-off in Zamboanga City, when BBL became a national issue, and when the same issue was discussed at the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) bishops, lay delegates, and other peace groups. The reason is BUC is still alive but it is out of the loop, ignored in the so-called peace process, with no government support and media attention!

“Let it be known,” Capalla emphasized, “that only our link as peace partner of the present government was broken.  BUC did not just stand by idle and uninvolved.”

  1. In October 2010 a national conference of coconut farmer leaders asked Capalla to write BS Aquino and request for an audience and to accompany them to Malacanang. It must be recalled that Capalla had made possible the dialogue between these coco farmers with their No. 1 historic foe, SMC chair Danding Cojuangco.  Moreover to support their demand for the utilization of the 80 billion peso coco levy fund Capalla organized the Bishops-Ulama-Priests-Pastors-Farmers-Lumad-Conference (BUPPFALUC).  It was in his capacity as BUPPFALUC chairman that he wrote that formal and respectful letter to BS Aquino in October 2010 four months after he assumed the presidency.  He coursed the letter through Archbishop Romulo G. Valles of Zamboanga who sent it by LBC directly to Balsy the presidential sister.  Until now Capalla has not received a reply to his request, nor even an acknowledgement that the letter was received!!!
  1. Then some BUC members like Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop Romulo Valles, and Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos were accused for receiving Pajero jeeps from the Arroyo administration – which was a big lie- and for the first time in the history of this Christian country the Catholic cardinals and bishops headed by Cardinal Vidal were summoned to the Senate! There was even an attempt to include Capalla with the “Pajero” label but it failed.  BUC exposed this unfair and blatant injustice.  Sadly, though, the government-controlled media keeps repeating the lie.
  1. Another unpresidential criticism against the bishops based on wrong historical records was delivered before Pope Francis on 16 January 2015 in Malacaňang before members of congress, diplomats, and foreign media. Strong indignations from many sectors including bishops were immediate and viral.
  1. BUC’s contribution not appreciated
  1. When the Supreme Court declared the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of the Arroyo government and the MILF unconstitutional, President Arroyo requested BUC to conduct region wide consultations since the lack of this was one major reason for its legal defect. It must also recalled that while MOA-AD was being signed on 5 August 2008 in Kuala Lumpur by the principals of the negotiating panels, the BUC board of directors were discussing a project for healing the social wounds of Mindanaoans through forgiveness and reconciliation. This was aborted because of the rejection of the peace agreement.

13.A.  In response to the presidential request BUC did two things:  a) held in Davao in late August 2008 a two-day consultation on MOA-AD attended by 200 Christian and Muslim stakeholders.  After this the MILF Central Committee and Mar Roxas, Cotabato Gov. Manny Piňol, Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat and Iligan Mayor Lawrence Crus at their request met 9 Catholic bishops separately in the Davao Archbishop’s residence to defend and criticize MOA-AD respectively. b) BUC conducted from January to July 2009 a professional research consultation/survey on people’s opinion on peacemaking.  Funded by government and the Asia Foundation, researchers and academicians from Catholic, Muslim and Protestant colleges and universities led by Jesuit Fr. Albert Alejo conducted focused group discussions in major cities in Mindanao and in Puerto Princesa, Cebu, Manila and Baguio with the participants numbering some 1,500.

  1. B. The focused groups were asked to answer 4 questions: a) What is your idea and experience of peace?  b) What are your suggestions/recommendations to GRP/MILF peace panels?  c) What is you broader idea of peace for Mindanao?  d) What can you contribute to or sacrifice for peace?  The project is known as Konsult Mindanaow (KM)
  1. C. The result was printed in book form and launched publicly in the Ateneo de Davao University where copies of the executive summary were distributed to the guests. Copies were also sent to the Office of the President, congress, GRP peace panels, MILF peace panel, and Mindanao Development Authority. The title of the book is Visions, Voices and Values.
  1. Was this important and significant document taken into account by the BS Aquino administration when sometime in early 2011 it resumed peace talks with the MILF? From the criticisms on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the Bangsamoro Basic Law, it seems not. One big and strong criticism is coming from the Christian minorities and the Lumads even before the Mamasapano massacre took place.  And yet MILF claims it has done 655 consultations!  The Aquino peace panel could have used the personnel and methodology of the Konsult Mindanaw.  It could have avoided many criticisms which now divide the country.
  1. Conclusions:  Serious concerns

The consequences of the tragic Mamasapano massacre of PNP SAF commandos are: a) anger/rage is escalating; b) MILF-GRP relations weakened; c) BBL future uncertain; d) war again rumors; e) arming of Christian groups; f) anti-Pinoy protests re his stepping down intensified; g) coup rumors; h) silence of US embassy/CNN/BBC/Aljeesera.

Something is missing somewhere. An intensified PR campaign involving prominent personalities cannot make up for this lack. FINIS

[1] The following narration of facts is from the Capalla personal testimony. The facts have been checked for accuracy by many gardeners.

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