NAIROBI, Kenya — Resonating on his message of peace and conciliation to the Filipino people during his visit to the Philippines early this year, His Holiness Pope Francis I has told Christian and Muslim leaders in the Republic of Kenya to continue engaging in dialogue in order to curb and effectively put an end to the barbarous, religious extremist attacks that have become regular occurrences in the country in recent months.
“[Work] to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive, and respectful of human dignity. May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination,” said the leader of the Catholic Church in a public massattended by tens of thousands of Catholics, including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Pope Francis I was alluding to the April 2 shooting at the Garissa University College in Kenya perpetuated by the militant group and Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Shabaab. Accordingly, 700 students were taken hostage by thegroup’s gunmen, killing 148 in the process. The same terrorist group is responsible for a spate of bombing throughout 2014 and another shooting in 2013 which left 80 dead.
The social upheaval that met the Catholic leader in Kenya was in stark contrast to the more peaceful and hopeful Christian-Muslim relationship in the Philippines, as evidenced by the Bangsamoro peace process between thegovernment and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that has lasted for almost two decades and is nearing its completion with the pending passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“In a particular way, I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienablerights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities,” the Holy Pontiff said while he was in the Philippines last January. “I note with pleasure ‎that last March (27, 2014) an agreement was signed to end long years of tension in the Philippines.”
*BBL legislative movement almost a crawl*
Unfortunately, months after the Pope’s visit to the country, the BBL remains in legislative limbo due to continuing delays from the lack of quorum at the House of Representatives and the intermittent debate on the bill in the Senate.
“We trust that both chambers of Congress will respond to the call of the Bangsamoro and recognize the urgency of this piece of legislation. We know this is what our people want, especially in the core territory of the Bangsamoro region. We know that this is the best chance we have now for achieving peace and security and for bringing development to Mindanao, which the region has sorely needed for so many decades already,” said Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary TeresitaQuintos Deles.
Both Houses of Congress only has until December 19 before they go on Christmas break. If the Bangsamoro bill is not passed before lawmakers go on break this year, peace advocates and stakeholders of the peace process fear that the measure will never see the light of day under the present administration.
Government of the Philippines chief peace negotiator Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal wrote an open letter to lawmakers asking them “to not lose time” and “to work for the immediatepassage of the draft law on the Bangsamoro.”
“We are at the cusp of closing a major armed conflict that has divided our people for decades. But we cannot reach our destination without the goodwill and show of statesmanship from our leaders in the august halls of Congress, in whose hands the legislative power lies.”
“Time is of the essence, and opportunity knocks only once,” the chief negotiators cautioned. PNA