It’s the morning of February 7th in Davao City: staff members of forumZFD Philippines are still busy arranging the last details of the venue that will host the conference “Transitional Justice in the Bangsamoro: What’s Next?” for the coming two and a half days. As the first guests trickle in, we can see that weeks of preparation have paid off: together with our colleagues at GIZ-Civil Peace Service Philippines we managed to bring together transitional justice advocates and their allies from the international community, academe, local civil society, members of affected communities, and government actors facing the crucial task of addressing past atrocities and building the foundations for a just and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro.
The conference is a continuation of forumZFD’s support to a sustainable and inclusive peace process in the Bangsamoro - a journey that forumZFD started in 2014, and a topic that continues to require space to discuss the root causes of the conflict and to transform them sustainably. Transitional justice does exactly that: it tackles historical grievances at the root of the conflict and aims to create the conditions necessary for them not to be repeated. As explained by transitional justice trainer Rufa Cagoco-Guiam during her keynote speech, transitional justice is composed of four main elements: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence. Potential mechanisms under these four umbrella terms – such as truth commissions, memorialization, monetary compensation for victims or institutional reforms – are meant to address the harm inflicted by past atrocities and to contribute to healing and reconciliation.
In the Bangsamoro, transitional justice has been a major challenge for the peace process as well as the transition period. In 2014, a Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was established by the Normalization Annex to the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro, the long-awaited peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that also laid the foundation for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Following expert consultations and a listening process in affected communities, the Commission published its report in 2016 laying out over 90 recommendations to address past injustices and promote reconciliation in the Bangsamoro. Currently, transitional justice implementation is taken forward by a joint technical working group of MILF and the national government that developed a Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Roadmap and by individual BARMM agencies implementing related projects such as the development of more inclusive school curricula by the Ministry for Basic, Higher, and Technical Education. However, comprehensive implementation of the recommendations as well as the creation of a national TJ mechanism lag behind.
“Six years since the publication of the TJRC report and the establishment of the BARMM with the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in interim leadership, no huge public discussion has been organized to pick up on the topic of transitional justice again and review if actions were made on the recommendations submitted to both the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels”, said Guiamel Alim, a key Bangsamoro CSO leader and former coordinator of the TJRC listening processes in 2015. The conference picked up these recommendations and, building on previous efforts, provided spaces to discuss what is next for transitional justice in the Bangsamoro.
‘We as CSOs are powerful in our ability to gather for a common cause’
Besides thematic workshops, sector-specific meetings, and panel discussions, the transitional justice conference was primarily one thing: a chance for transitional justice advocates both from within and outside the Bangsamoro to come together and reunite their efforts. Being the first major event on transitional justice since the publication of the TJRC report, it served to reflect on what has been achieved since the passing of the peace agreement, re-energize existing initiatives, and explore new ways of strengthening the push for a genuine implementation of the recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
The conference built on previous and existing efforts to make transitional justice a priority topic for political key actors and civil society organizations in the Bangsamoro region. Bringing diverse actors into a room together, it aimed to give a voice to those communities affected by the previous and on-going conflicts in the Bangsamoro region who might be sidelined by the current narratives and discourses on transitional justice. While firmly rooted in the experiences of the Bangsamoro, the conference allowed participants to explore lessons from abroad shared by panelists from Cambodia, Nepal, Serbia, and Kosovo and was also attended by embassy representatives of Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and Ireland, all of which expressed their commitment to continue supporting the peace process in the Bangsamoro.
The many conversations held during the conference – in plenary, workshop rooms, during coffee breaks and side meetings – showed what is still needed for transitional justice in the Bangsamoro: transitional justice legislation and a mechanism on the national level, genuine commitment from all actors involved in implementing the recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, and the inclusion of marginalized groups such as indigenous peoples, women, youth, and victims groups in any initiatives taken. While highlighting the gaps in transitional justice efforts, the conference also sent a strong signal that there are many willing to work to close these gaps. As shared by Ammier Dodo, head of the MILF’s technical working group on transitional justice: “The positive side of the coin is, we see people continuing to assert and pushing for the creation of the mechanisms. This is the right time”.
“Transitional justice is like crossing a bridge from a dark, violent past to a brighter, and peaceful future” – the metaphor introduced by conference keynote speaker Rufa Cagoco-Guiam was taken up again by conference participants on the last day as they symbolically built together a bridge into a brighter future. Connecting colorful cards with their individual and organizational commitments into one metaphorical bridge, participants created a powerful reminder of what they plan to take forward and back to their communities. The conference closed with each sector – civil society from within the Bangsamoro region, BARMM government actors, academe, international organizations, and UN agencies – reading out their commitment statements, in answer to the question “Transitional Justice in the Bangsamoro: What’s next?”. At forumZFD, our answer to this question is that we will continue to create safe spaces for exchange and learning for those advocating for and implementing transitional justice . Together with our partners, community representatives, fellow NGOs, and international partners, we renewed our commitment to working towards genuine and inclusive transitional justice processes in the Bangsamoro. Or, as expressed by Country Director, Máiréad Collins: “Let us recognize the important role of TJ in creating a just peace. It should remain at the heart of the discussion of the peace process.”
The conference was organized by the forumZFD Philippines program and GIZ-Civil Peace Service Philippines with advisory support from Guiamel Alim, Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, and Initiatives for International Dialogue.