Fear of the unknown remains a challenge, and those who are not well-informed on the gains of the peace process or the pertinent provisions of the BOL would still have misconceptions. We are always faced with the challenge to provide more timely information to the public that would allay any fears. 

 

Mohagher Iqbal is chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Implementing Panel and commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). He gave this talk during the Kusog Mindanaw 2018 Conference in Davao City on 8 November 2018.

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What are the implications of the GPH-MILF peace process and the Bangsamoro Organic Law to Mindanao and the emerging challenges? Before answering the question, a brief backgrounder:

 

On January 7, 1997, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed to engage in a peace process with the Philippine government (GPH) for number of reasons or objectives: 1) the search for peaceful settlement of conflict is a cornerstone of the MILF ideology. The late MILF Chair Salamat Hashim said: “The most civilized and practical way of settling the armed conflict in Mindanao is through a negotiated political settlement”; and 2) because the MILF was invited by the Philippine government to talk after the conclusion of the GRP-MNLF peace process in 1996.

 

In this peace process, the GPH and MILF agreed to have only one agenda which is to solve the “Bangsamoro Problem”: This is a general term referring to a variety of social, cultural, economic and political issues and concerns that have affected Mindanao and fueled the conflict. It includes – but not limited to – the following areas:

  • The issue of ancestral domain and the displaced and landless Bangsamoro
  • Destruction of properties and lack of appropriate reparation for the victims of war (e.g., internally displaced people)
  • Human rights violations
  • Economic inequities, widespread poverty and exploitation of natural resources
  • Corruption and authority monopolized by chosen few
  • Social and cultural discrimination

 

But the core of this problem is the Bangsamoro’s quest to self-determination, or the establishment of a self-governing political entity for the Bangsamoro people that takes cognizant of the Bangsamoro’s distinct culture and acknowledges our political history.

 

As you know, the peace process reached an important milestone on March 27, 2014 when parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. This is after 17 years of negotiations and signing more or less 200 agreements, terms of references and other pertinent documents, including the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes.

 

Another important milestone is the approval of Republic Act 11054, also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law. The BOL would allow the legal entrenchment of the commitments stipulated in the CAB and other negotiated peace agreements. One of those commitments is the creation of a government that is applicable for the Bangsamoro and would hopefully usher in the political, economic and other necessary reforms towards lasting peace and prosperity in the said region.

 

Today, we are in the implementation phases covering three tracks: 1) ceasefire and security-related matters; 2) normalization process especially transformation of MILF camps into productive communities, decommissioning of MILF weapons and combatants, and disbandment of private armies; and 3) completion or culmination of the legal track which is the ratification of the BOL on January 21, 2019.

 

Implications of the peace process and the BOL to Mindanao:

The peace process especially after the passage of BOL will help reinforce and strengthen the political and legal foundation of just and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro. In other words, the BOL would create an environment where the commitments negotiated and agreed upon in the CAB and FAB can be effectively implemented.

 

The peace process enabled the parties to negotiate for the architecture and instruments that would allow us to gradually address overarching issues in a logical, sequential and orderly manner. What are these instruments? The creation of joint mechanisms at the national and community levels that enable and facilitate the meaningful and active participation of the international community and civil society organizations.

 

The peace process provided the MILF an avenue to elevate the Bangsamoro problem and our struggle for the right to self-determination to the national consciousness. Of course, there is still room for improvement as many Filipinos outside of Mindanao remain unaware of the history of the Bangsamoro struggle.

 

In specific terms, the following are some of the implications:

  • It would usher in socio-economic development in the Bangsamoro, giving economic opportunities for its residents. Ultimately this would contribute to Mindanao’s prosperity.
  • Security will also improve, as the MILF intends to make that transition to civilian life as a social movement once all political conditions are met. The MILF’s the struggle will not continue in military terms but as active participants in political sphere or democratic system.
  • Because the BOL intends to create a parliamentary system, the new Bangsamoro government would be more inclusive and allow proper representation. Governance is no longer for those who know how to win elections, those who may not have the resources but have principled platform can become leaders and public servants.
  • The Bangsamoro would also have fiscal independence and would benefit from the proper use of the region’s natural resources for further development.
  • The BOL would guarantee peace and harmony among its residents by ensuring the protection of human rights of all residents of the Bangsamoro, whether Moro, indigenous people or Christians.
  • Stronger working relationship between the national government and the Bangsamoro government through the creation of appropriate intergovernmental mechanisms.

 

Emerging challenges to the BOL/peace process:

The most immediate challenge is the ratification of the BOL. As of now, the BOL is not yet a full law that can be implemented. The uncertainty is doubled by the petition filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the BOL or some of its provisions.

 

The BOL intends to change the status quo in the Bangsamoro due to the political and economic reforms it intends to introduce. However, there are some personalities that prefer the status quo, which could challenge the BOL’s ratification in the proposed Bangsamoro political entity.

 

There are also spoilers to the peace process, and I am referring to local terrorist groups that spread violent extremist belief system and condone the use of violence to reach their political, religious and ideological goals. Despite milestones in the peace process, we recognize that these came incrementally. Delays in the delivery of peace dividends could be used by these extremists to recruit more followers and justify their belief systems.

 

Fear of the unknown remains a challenge, and those who are not well-informed on the gains of the peace process or the pertinent provisions of the BOL would still have misconceptions. Perceptions shape narratives, and without the correct information, rumors can form that can affect people’s perception on the BOL, the peace process and even the MILF. We are always faced with the challenge to provide more timely information to the public that would allay any fears.

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