The Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC) works to initiate dialogue aimed at improving understanding between Muslims and Christians.
How BUC started
Over the last several decades, various attempts have been made by representatives of religious parties to initiate dialogue aimed at improving understanding between Muslims and Christians. Since the late 1960s, religious leaders have held many serious formal dialogues to analyse the problem of mistrust and understanding between Christians and Muslims. Annual dialogues in which many Muslim and Christian leaders participated were held from 1967 until the late 1990s, including seminars on Islam and topics such as the problems of the Moro minority group and their role in a Christian-dominated society.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, the Protestant National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) implemented work known as the Program to Assist Christians in Education about Muslims (PACEM), with the goal of increasing Christian understanding of the Moro minority. Members of the NCCP as well as Catholics joined in Duyog Ramadan, while temporarily living in Muslim communities. During the Marcos years, PACEM and similar programmes of the Catholic Church developed a focus on human rights, including those of the oppressed Moro community. However, as Bishop Gomez explains: 'When Marcos was overthrown in 1986, the NCCP program for better Christian-Muslim understanding lost its steam, as it was anchored on the militant stance against martial law. It missed the important point that dialogues for a just and lasting peace is beyond fighting for human rights.'
A meeting in Cebu City in November 1996, formally launched the Bishops-Ulama Forum, later renamed the Bishops-Ulama Conference. Regular meetings (three times yearly), were arranged with organisational support from the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, the Office of the Presidental Advisor on the Peace Process, and CRS.
The structure of the BUC
The Conference's organisational structure is composed of 24 Catholic bishops who are also members of the Catholic Ulama Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), 26 Ulama and Ustadz, members of the Ulama League of the Philippines (ULP), and 18 Protestant bishops and pastors who are members of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). Official observers are the officers of the Panagtagbo, a Confederation of 18 Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao, and bishops of the Philippines Conference of Evangelical Churches (PCEC). The Conference is governed by a board of directors called the Tripartite Commission, composed of four Catholics, four Muslims, and four Protestants.
President Aquino is urged to work with the Bishop-Ulama Conference. Its work has been recognised for many years, and it has for a long time been doing what various government and non-governmental groups are only starting to duplicate. According to Archbishop Emeritus Capalla of Davao, who was the former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines as well as the co-founder of the BUC; the BUC is 'the missing link in the Mindanao peace process'.