MANILA (UPDATED) - Exactly a year to the day when the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a landmark comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro, peace is nowhere in sight for Mindanao.
Peace advocates are still on the streets of Manila, marking the signing of the milestone agreement with a call to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will enforce the agreement.
"Sa gitna ng magkakaibang opinion at politikal na hanay, higit naming pagtitibayin ang aming suporta para sa agarang pagpapatuloy ng prosesong pangkapayapaan, sa pamamagitan ng pagsusulong ng ipagpatuloy ang deliberasyon ukol sa Bangsamoro Basic Law kung saan ang nakasalig na mga prinsipyo ng hustisyang panlipunan, kaunlarang pantao at pangmatagalang pangkapayapaan ay kumatawan sa mga pangarap hindi lamang ng ating mga kapatid na Muslim bagkus bawat mamayang Pilipino," said the unity statement of some 20 civil society groups.
The program also offered inspirational songs and numbers.
Today, they released doves of peace and marched around the Quezon Memorial Circle to dramatize their advocacy, led by members of the government peace negotiating team including Chairman Miriam Coronel Ferrer.
Citing the fact that it's also women's month, Ferrer said it's important that the voices of women be heard in the peace process since the Bangsamoro is for all.
The problem is that the BBL is stuck at the committee level deliberations in Congress - at a time when it should have already been passed.
Based on the original timeline, by now, the BBL should already be a law, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority already being set up- in the lead up to the Bangsamoro elections that will coincide with nationwide elections in 2016.
But for now, that remains a dream, especially after the January 25 Mamasapano incident, where members of the MILF allegedly figured in the grisly deaths of 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force troopers hunting down suspected terrorists.
In the last Pulse Asia survey, 67% of Filipinos distrusted the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), 62% of those polled in Mindanao are against the BBL. Nationally, 44% disagreed with passing the bill.
Ferrer conceded that the nation is back to the state when the talks began: a position of distrust.
What's important is that justice be done, and that the bigger injustice - continued war in Mindanao - be stopped.
As it is, Ferrer pointed out it's already a success that the government and the MILF got this far and the ceasefire is still holding.
The flames of Mamasapano won't be dying soon though as the House of Representatives resumes its investigation after the Holy Week, before it deals with the approval of the BBL.
Ferrer reminded lawmakers, including those critical of the bill over trust issues with the MILF and those wary of the powers and resources that the MILF may enjoy as a political entity under the Bangsamoro, that passing this bill will be their legacy especially now, as the 2016 presidential election season sets in.
She said this is an election issue, saying those who vote for this will get the votes of those for peace.
WAR VS PEACE
National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Chair Yasmin Busran Lao appealed to all to think about the victims of war and the resources lost to war.
She said people who are for peace should make their voices heard.
Lao said more than a Muslim vote, it is the peace vote that politicians should court for the elections.
With regards to the Mamasapano incident, Lao pointed out that what is important is that the process of accountability is proceeding.
The MILF cleared all of their personnel in the incident.
Both Ferrer and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales conceded, passing the BBL is pressed for time. The BBL remains pending at the committees of the House and Senate.
At the House, congressmen will first resume their investigation into the Mamasapano incident from April 7 to 8 before resuming BBL deliberations from April 20-3, paving the way for a vote on May 11 and 12 and the committee. Only then will it be endorsed to the plenary, which has less than a month to pass it before adjourning for the second regular session mid-June.
Gonzales called on his colleagues to guarantee a quorum so that the bill can proceed. But this early, Gonzales concedes the bill won't pass unchanged.
He said the bill already lost five months in Congress. They expected the Palace to submit it quickly after the CAB was signed in March 2014 but Malacanang only did so in September.
Gonzales likened the marathon BBL debates to the Reproductive Health Bill debates where votes will not be decided along party lines, but by public reception.
He said that as the elections inch closer, it will be harder for congressmen running in the elections to support an unpopular bill.
Even President Aquino's endorsement of the bill won't be a guarantee that it will pass, especially if it violates the Constitution.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, for his part, said the Senate will work on a revised draft of the BBL and target a June passage.
"Malacanang must rebuild the support it lost because of Mamasapano," he said.