The conference featured three panel discussions with expert resource persons providing in-depth discussion on the topics assigned to them.

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The first panel discussion on the proposed BBL invited Commissioner Jose Lorena of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), Representative Abdula Dimaporo of the Second District of Lanao del Norte, and Atty. Ishak Mastura, chairman of the Regional Board of Investments (RBOI) of the ARMM. Moderated by IAG Executive Director Atty. Benedicto Bacani, the panel focused on core territory, plebiscite, and ARMM personnel – three hot-button issues in the proposed Bangsamoro measure.

For the second panel, MNLF Counsel Randolph Parcasio and Prof. Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) and member of the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute Study Group, helped the conference understand the current discourse on the proposed shift from unitary to a federal system. Balay Mindanaw Founder and President Charlito Manlupig will moderate the discussion.

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The third and last panel featured an experts’ discussion on extremism with Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., Prof. Mansoor Limba of the Ateneo de Davao University, and Atty. Salma Rasul of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) as resource persons. Dr. Ofelia Durante,research specialist with IAG, moderated the panel.

Our takeaways from this year’s Kusog Mindanaw​ conference on the agenda of BBL, federalism, and extremism:

The conference featured three panel discussions with expert resource persons providing in-depth discussion on the Kusog Mindanaw 2017 agenda. These are our initial takeaways from this 2-day gathering of different voices:

1. Revisiting the rationale of Kusog Mindanaw as a platform: Fr. Mercado reminded us of the 5 lingering issues confronting every Mindanawan, upon which Kusog Mindanaw has built a robust advocacy through the years. These are: equitable share of at least 30% in the national budget; share of Mindanao in national governance; interconnectedness with the rest of the country and the BIMP EAGA neighbors thru infrastructure development; inclusive peace process that addresses the roots of conflict; and the continuing aspiration towards federalism.

2. Harnessing new opportunities and responding to challenges in the new context: On one hand, a positive development for Mindanao with the leadership of the country now in the hands of Mindanawans, and on the other – the threat of violent religious extremism as manifested in the now infamous Marawi siege. This strain of extremism kills and murders Christians and Muslims alike and all other faithful.

3. Hope of finally passing the BBL is alive, but not without difficulties: President Duterte and the leadership of Moro fronts remain committed to the BBL, the issue now is the form of that BBL. Currently there are 4 versions of the BBL in the House and 1 in Senate. Major differences between these versions, as pointed out, have something to do with territory, with one version, for instance, including in the coverage of plebiscite 6 municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato, plus opt in provision, and another version removing these altogether.

4. Consensus building is critical between now and the March 23, 2018 new deadline of passing the BBL. The final form of the BBL must be a law that can bring all the stakeholders together. A consensus on the three issues identified among Mindanawans, or even just among the Bangsamoro – core territory, plebiscite, ARMM personnel – would greatly improve chances of the BBL being passed by Congress. Between now and the March 23 deadline, the need is to foster inclusive ownership of the peace process to counter the lingering perception that it is solely an MILF peace process.

5. The issue with regards the fate of ARMM personnel pertains really to the abolition of the ARMM and the process of transition that follows it. Consensus as to what will happen to the existing personnel is needed to formulate the roadmap and timeline of the transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro.

6. The proposed shift to federal system is not new as this has been discussed in Kusog Mindanaw in the last 22 years, but unlike in the past, there is now a real opening for charter change and federalism. Federalism was originally an idea to address the problems created by the unitary setup and resolve the Moro rebellion, with the overarching goal of curbing poverty by bringing development to the countryside. Crucial to the federal project of the Duterte administration is building consensus on hot-button issues, including: determining the number of viable federal states or regions and regional groupings, budgeting and refinement of the IRA formula, prevailing political, economic and ethno linguistic culture, local autonomy vis-à-vis national sovereignty, asymmetric setup for the Bangsamoro and Cordillera regions.

7. The Kusog Mindanaw panel on violent religious extremism reminds us that of the more than a billion Muslims, violent extremists make up only a minority. The problem, however, is this minority being able to hijack the platform, their atrocities and violent acts inadvertently highlighted in the media.

Exercise caution when consuming content of conflict reporting dished out by the media and be able to identify biased-laden reports that only perpetuate narrow perspectives.
Violent extremism is both a social ill and symptom of other social ills, hence should be addressed alongside those other social ills. Society and the government need to continuously strive to understand the complex web of factors contributing to violent extremism. We need a comprehensive PVE – Preventing Violent Extremism – and CVE – Countering Violent Extremism – informed by a fuller appreciation of the intricacies of the problem.

Kusog Mindanaw continues to unfold as a platform of dialogue on the various discourses on the three-point agenda of this year’s conference: BBL, Federalism, and Extremism. As a platform of different voices, we move forward the advocacy on issues we have established consensus on, while respecting diverging views on issues we continue to have differences.