Transitional justice is a variety of processes and strategies where a society comes to terms with mass atrocity crimes that happened in the past, usually during armed conflict or period of authoritarian regimes.

According to Mayesha Alam (2014), it comes into a time when a state or society is in transition, “emerging out of mass political violence and socioeconomic upheaval, undertaking transitional justice initiatives can have transformative effects on the state’s political institutions, social cohesion, rule of law, and even economic viability.” For the International Center on Transitional Justice (ICTJ), transitional justice is “a response to systematic and widespread violation of human rights” and “seeks recognition for the victims and to promote possibilities for peace, reconciliation, and democracy.”

The Philippines in 1986 was a transitional justice moment with the ouster of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Thereafter, President Corazon Aquino came out with Proclamation No. 1 where she pledged “to do justice to the numerous human rights violations” of the Marcos Martial Law regime. As such, a new constitution was crafted with one of the longest human rights provisions in the world along with the creation of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Other transitional justice initiatives were the establishment of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, Office of the Ombudsman, and the Philippine Commission on Good Governance (PCGG); the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP); and reactivating the peace negotiations. These were just some institutional measures to advance the guarantee of non-recurrence pillar of transitional justice.

In light of the right to reparation pillar, the Philippines saw the passage of Republic Act 10368 or “An Act Providing for the Reparation and Recognition of Victims of Human Rights Violations during the Marcos Regime, Documentation of Said Violations, Appropriating Funds therefor and for Other Purposes” (“Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013”). This law created the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) tasked, among others, to “receive, evaluate, process and investigate applications for claims” under RA 10368. The HRVCB supposedly received around 75,000 plus applications and of which, 11,000 plus were awarded claims of human rights violations. Another institutional body created under the law was the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission (HRVVMC) mandated for “the establishment, restoration, preservation, and conservation of the Memorial/Museum/Library/Compendium in honor of the HRVVs during the Marcos regime.” Supposedly, a museum for this purpose would be constructed in the University of the Philippines Diliman.

For the right to truth/know pillar, there were documentation of human rights violations during Martial Law by various civil society organizations. Unfortunately, judicial mechanisms and criminal prosecution for human rights violations did not materialize. Needless to say, no one seemed to have been held accountable for these violations. And with the current political leadership configuration in the country, what can we realistically expect on the matter of transitional justice?

The Bangsamoro in Mindanao can be said to have experienced armed conflict atrocities, particularly during the reign of Martial Law in the 1970s. It comes under the purview of transitional justice precisely because of atrocity crimes that happened during the armed conflict. Its transitional justice discourse falls under the context of armed conflict situations.

The concept of transitional justice was part of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Under the provision on normalization, it stated that the “Parties agreed to work out a program for transitional justice to address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices, and address human rights violations.” Of all of the peace agreements negotiated and signed, only the FAB and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) specifically provided for transitional justice.

The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was the body borne out of the CAB under the Annex on Normalization. It was mandated by the peace panels to “undertake a study and to make recommendations with a view to promote healing and reconciliation of different communities that have been affected by the conflict.” The TJRC Report, launched in March 2016, presented their key findings and analysis on legitimate grievances, historical injustice, human rights violations, and marginalization through land dispossession. They also recommended the Dealing with the Past (DwP) framework that relates transitional justice with the rule of law, ending impunity, and conflict transformation.

The passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the establishment of a government in the Bangsamoro were also transitional justice measures. The GPH and MILF likewise have agreed on a transitional justice roadmap. Those measures that are implemented by the government itself are undertaken by the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization (ICCMN).

At the national legislative front, we saw the filing of House Bill 4003 and Senate Bill 1913 in the 18th Congress.

We cannot return to the 1986 moment but surely, we can create a new moment.

A moment that may begin with an acknowledgement and public apology of atrocities of the past. A moment that can take its cue from the Bangsamoro experience of creating a mechanism to study what are the transitional justice issues and concerns in the country. A moment that can produce a national transitional justice framework and not just piecemeal mechanisms that do not connect with one another. A moment that can produce a societal dialogue on transitional justice measures from below. A moment where a nation acknowledges its hurts and remembers its own failures.

And moment where we can transition to healing and reconciliation and be citizens that our country deserves. We must not miss the moment ever again.


Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Ph.D. is an associate professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. She is also director of the Asia-Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect-Philippine Office.