How do we proceed towards healing — as individuals, as communities, as peoples — from the legacies of widespread violence and of massive human rights abuses in the past and in the present? We’re looking into Transitional Justice as “Dealing with the Past” — initiatives that uphold the people’s right to know, right to justice, right to reparation, and guarantee of non-recurrence towards conflict transformation and reconciliation. As a team of peace and reconciliation (PAR) missionaries, Transitional Justice is a motivation for us to contribute to the healing of our multi-ethnic country, one PAR community at a time.

Lakan Sumulong makes suggestions on what civil society can do together to realize the recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) after hearing that the Government of the Philippines does not seem to act on it. “Ways Forward for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation in the Bangsamoro: A Round Table Discussion.” 30 March 2016. Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City.

For the past two years, we have been participating in conferences, healing processes, seminars, and community-based discussions focusing on Transitional Justice (TJ). We have been listening to civil society leaders and field workers who are survivors and overcomers of past and present violence and human rights abuses. And we, as PeaceBuilders Community, are expanding our views and perspectives on what we mean by “peace and reconciliation.”

Our understanding of Transitional Justice

According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, TJ “refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.”

The Republic of the Philippines fits well with ICTJ’s description of a society badly in need of Transitional Justice:
“From full blown national and international conflicts to repressive governments ordinary people are very frequently the victims of abuses – and on a massive scale. Such violence may involve mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape, massive displacement, forced recruitment of children and myriad other crimes. It leaves societies devastated, with crumbling institutions that cannot serve its citizens and consequences lingering for generations.” 

The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) in the Philippines did a great job in documenting the stories of the victims and survivors of the armed conflicts between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro liberation fronts. In their Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Report, they presented TJ as “Dealing with the Past” — that is, “initiatives related to truth seeking, justice, reparations, and institutional reform… reinforcing framework that is needed in the struggle against impunity and to strengthen the rule of law.”

We understood this “Dealing with the Past” framework better when we saw this diagram:

The TJRC “Dealing with the Past” Framework
Based on the Principles Against Impunity by Louis Joinet & Diane Orentlicher.
Cited in Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Report, p.xiii.

This framework is well-explained by Jonathan Sisson in his paper, A Conceptual Framework for Dealing with the Past. Here are our quoted notes:

The INNERMOST circle depicts the victim/perpetrator-oriented perspective of TJRC initiatives. Victims are persons who individually or collectively suffered harm through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of human rights. While categories exist to define war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, there is no single normative definition of a perpetrator, as this qualification will often vary according to domestic legislation. Nevertheless, it can be said in general terms that DwP initiatives should be designed to address the needs of victims and the accountability of perpetrators.

The CENTRAL circle represents the four principles of the conceptual framework and reflects the particular dynamics relating to victims/perpetrators mentioned above. Those mechanisms and procedures that principally address the needs of victims — Right to Know and Right to Justice — are located in the upper part of the circle. Those focusing on the accountability of perpetrators — Right to Reparation and Guarantee of Non-Occurence — are located in the lower part.
:: Right to Know. The right of victims and of society at large to know the truth. The duty of the State to preserve memory. (truth commissions; fact finding bodies; documentation; archives; history books; missing persons)
:: Right to Justice. The right of victims to a fair remedy. The duty of the State to investigate, prosecute, and duly punish. (civil lawsuits; alternative dispute mechanisms; international, domestic, and ‘hybrid’ courts; witness support and protection; trial monitoring)
:: Guarantee of Non-Recurrence. The right of victims and society at large to protection from further violations. The duty of the State to ensure good governance and the rule of law. (decommissioning; institutional reform; democratic control of security sector; vetting and lustration)
:: Right to Reparation. The right of individual victims or their beneficiaries to reparation. The duty of the State to provide satisfaction. (rehabilitation; compensation; restitution; memorials; public apologies; commemorations; educational initiatives)

The INTERMEDIARY circle represents the most immediate long-term goal of strengthening the rule of law by combating impunity. This will serve to strengthen public confidence in State institutions.

The OUTERMOST circle is defined by the parameters of reconciliation and non-repetition or prevention of the serious and systemic abuses of the past. This is again a long-term goal, for which a societal process of Dealing with the Past is a necessary pre-requisite. Impact measurement is more difficult here, but the key concept is conflict transformation. By strengthening the rule of law and contributing to the struggle against impunity, Dealing with the Past is creating conditions, in which other means become available to address social conflict. Even when the root causes of conflict continue to persist, the institutions and mechanisms supported by DwP initiatives as well as the modalities employed and lessons learned will contribute to establish democratic norms of tolerance and power-sharing that reflect not only the social, economic, and ethic diversity of a country, but also the need to involve women in the decision-making process.

The transformative dimension also finds expression in the transformation of social and political identities. If the victim or perpetrator identity was the predominant one at the beginning of a process of Dealing with the Past, it should change gradually as the process proceeds. The experience of being a victim or perpetrator belongs to one’s personal biography, but it is no longer the dominant social or political identity. Instead, it is replaced by the new identity of being a citizen of society with the rights and duties of citizenship as part of the new social contract.

Urging government, civil society, and international community

:: We resonate with the urging of TJRC to the political decision-makers, civil society, and the international community to take action on these TJ initiatives.
“A sound political decision needs to be taken at the highest level by both parties to set the stage for a strategic approach to ‘dealing with the past’ for the Bangsamoro. Indeed, ‘dealing with the past’ must be fully integrated into the peace process to ensure its sustainability. As an intrinsic part of the Bangsamoro and national peace agenda, ‘dealing with the past’ shall be implemented through a series of short-term, medium-term, and long-term measures to be undertaken independently and co-jointly by the Bangsamoro and national authorities with the support of Philippine civil society and the international community.”

:: As peace-and-reconciliation missionaries working with the grassroots, we also commit ourselves to help advance TJ initiatives locally.
“Therefore, it proposes an incremental and flexible approach that combines mutually reinforcing efforts in the fields of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence, while promoting reconciliation initiatives on the national, regional, and local levels.”

Integrating TJ with our peace-and-reconciliation ministries

The stories of the survivors interviewed by TJRC touched our being. TJRC systematically documented and affirmed the bits and pieces of the picture we were seeing based on our field experiences for the past 12 years. Since we started sharing our new learnings on TJ with our staff, field workers, and community members on the ground, we became more aware of the following transformation in our organizational consciousness and perspectives:

:: We started accepting the fact that we’re not a monolithic Philippine State. One major aspect of TJRC’s report is that the “three interlocking phenomena of violence, impunity, and neglect… are rooted in the imposition of a monolithic Filipino identity and Philippine State by force.” This Manila-centered imposition of a “monolithic Filipino identity” is an oppressive myth. We love this beautiful and rich archipelago. We love the peoples of this land. But our love for our land and our love for our peoples do not have to lead us to a kind of “worship-of-republic” or a sort of “state-idolatry.” This idea of a monolithic Philippine State has been imposed on the peoples of this land by imperialist powers using their technologically-advanced weapons of death and destruction. The present Republic is perpetuating such state idolatry.

:: We are growing in our appreciation of the fact that we’re an archipelago of multiple ethnic groups. We are a culturally-colorful country of many ethnicities and languages. This is how the Great Creator designed the inhabitants of this beautiful and rich archipelago. We are beyond just tolerating other cultures. Our awareness of the beauty and richness of our multicultural country increases our appreciation of our diversity. We’re a country of multiple ethno-linguistic groups. We celebrate the fact that the people in the Cordilleras were not colonized and thus preserving the cultural memories of our first nations. We are proud of the people of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi because they tell us that a segment of our archipelago have already reached the political state of being nations and nation-states before the Western colonizers came.

:: We are sharpening our cultural sensitivity skills, especially our cross-cultural communication skills. When we listen cross-culturally, we seek to understand the people’s worldview — what for them is Final Reality. A people’s worldview determines their value system — what to them is important. Understanding their value system helps us interpret accurately their behavior patterns — what to them is right and proper. When we listen cross-culturally, we seek to understand what they’re saying intellectually; what they’re saying emotionally; and, what they’re saying volitionally. These are our cross-cultural listening tools to appreciate, not merely tolerate, the cultures of our sisters and brothers from other ethnolinguistic groups in this beautiful and rich archipelago.

:: We are opening our eyes to the reality that the victims, at times, are perpetrators; and that the perpetrators, at times, are victims. These are seen frequently in the stories heard and systematically documented by the TJRC. This realization helps us to keep seeking the many facets of truth as we listen to all stakeholders, to all sides, to all voices until we get the most achievable comprehensive picture of a situation.

:: We’re beginning to help in the re-telling of our peoples’ historical narratives. The TJRC Report says: “…the teaching of Bangsamoro history and culture must be seen as part of the challenge in reforming the educational system as a whole in accordance with the K-12 curriculum. Politically and culturally, the challenge is one of identity. After decades of war, there are deep divisions among different population groups living within the boundaries of the future Bangsamoro region. It remains to be seen whether the idea of a Bangsamoro ‘people’ can be framed in a way which transcends the ethnopolitical divisions that have frustrated past attempts to unite the region’s inhabitants around a shared vision of the common good.” We have a lot of work to do as listeners and story-tellers of the varied narratives of our sisters and brothers from various indigenous communities.

Lakan Sumulong (11th person from the right, standing at the back) represented us at a survivors’ solidarity gathering dubbed as “Healing the Past: Peoples Solidarity for Justice and Dignity.” 20-21 February 2019. Quezon City. PBCI Photo.

Transitional Justice is now a significant aspect of our understanding of peace and reconciliation (PAR). The heart of our ministry, which is PAR, is being transformed by our understanding of TJ or “Dealing with the Past” framework.

Permanent link to this article: https://peacebuilderscommunity.org/2019/04/dealing-with-the-past-a-path-of-the-people-towards-healing-the-future-of-our-nation/

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