Transitional justice has been one of the buzzwords in the peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), specifically, under the Annex on Normalization. True to its mandate, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) submitted its Final Report to both panels in March 2016, providing explanations for historical injustice, legitimate grievances, human rights violations, and marginalization through land dispossession, and offering analysis as to the root causes of the Bangsamoro conflict as well as recommendations based on the pillars of Dealing with the Past.

Not much has moved since then, except for some executive rhetoric here and there, some civil society gatherings, and a handful of international actors linking transitional justice specifically to the prevention of radicalization and violent extremism. Fairly recently, however, there seems to be renewed interest in moving forward with transitional justice — especially, with the Bangsamoro Organic Law mandating a mechanism to be established.

Additionally, Executive Order (EO) 79 provides for transitional justice as one of the aspects of the Normalization Program with the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization to take the lead on implementing recommendations of the TJRC. Note that both grounding documents are only within the ambit of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Quite obviously, the huge gap in the construction of transitional justice is the nature of where it shall supposedly operate in — only within BARMM, crafted by GPH and MILF implementing panels, supported by other actors in Track 1 space, and participated in by chosen ones to provide substance and expertise.

Even the grand plan to have a National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission in the Bangsamoro as recommended by the TJRC and mimicked by Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte’s House Bill (HB) 5669 (or An Act Establishing a Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Program for the Bangsamoro, Creating for the Purpose of the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission for the Bangsamoro, and Appropriating Funds Thereof) seems to fall short for those they are intended to reach. Sure, these shall be the possible mechanisms in BARMM — but what about victims of atrocities committed in other areas in Mindanao during Marcos’ Martial Law?

In the past few days, I, along with other colleagues, have had a opportunity to listen to victims from Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay; Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur; and Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. Narratives of atrocities — massacres, torture and mutilation, rape, starvation — were closely similar. These were clearly war crimes and crimes against humanity, possibly even ethnic cleansing. Equally important was that the peoples’ concept of justice was also the same — that of reparation.

Unfortunately, very few claims were awarded by the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) in the whole of Mindanao. Those we spoke to in Ipil and Labangan did not know about the HRVCB nor the law on reparations; in Palimbang, despite experiencing the same atrocious event in their community, only 26 or small percentage of the claimants were awarded. Until now, they are still waiting for justice with the question hanging over them: “Why were we excluded?”

In constructing transitional justice in the country, participation of and consultation with a select few simply will not cut it. There should be a systematic effort to document as many narratives as possible — of individuals and collectives. Just to be “written in” is an important acknowledgement for victims. A community’s desire to commemorate their collective tragedy as a simple message of “yes, this happened… and, yes, never again” is already an empowering tool for them.

For example, women in Palimbang said that a memorial marker at the Tacbil Mosque — site of the massacre of husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers — is of symbolic importance; a marker in the fish pond that turned out to be a mass grave should also be in place to honor those who were killed. Local government officials from Ipil, Lambangan, Palimbang and other similar areas could craft a resolution memorializing their collective narrative. We should never stop collecting truths.

In addition, we should also pay attention to the restoration of victims’ dignity. The central idea of reparation is to try to “repair” the damage or harm done. It can come in material (i.e. compensation) or symbolic forms (i.e. commemoration days, memorialization, etc). It seeks to nurture empathy and solidarity in society — healing our collective pain and brokenness.

But in as far as available reparative mechanism is concerned, the HRVCB has ended its work — awarding 11,103 legitimate claimants out of 75,000 applicants, with supposedly 1% of claimants awarded in Mindanao.

In 2016, then Representative Herminio “Harry” Roque, Jr. introduced HB 226 or An Act Amending Republic Act 10368, Providing Reparations for Victims of Human Rights Violations, Creating a Permanent Human Rights Victims Claims Board, and for Other Purposes. To a large extent, the bill not only seeks to expand the period of coverage of human rights violations beyond Marcos’ Martial Law but also extends accountability to both state and non-state actors. Such an initiative should be revived, albeit amended further to include nuances of context, culture, and identity (i.e. gender, ethnicity, religion).

And maybe, just maybe, we can at least mitigate exclusions, intentional or otherwise, that may trigger tensions in the future. This is our country, our people and sure as hell we know what must be done ourselves, if only the platform for participation had not been closed to us by gods and demigods who took it upon themselves to engineer our future without us in the picture.


Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. She is also the Program Director on Gender and Atrocity Prevention at the Asia Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect.