KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), together with the various peace structures working under the Bangsamoro peace process, are meeting here to reassess means of moving forward in light of the 16th Congress’ failure to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before it adjourned last week.
“Today could have been a much happier occasion, if only we had the law that would have moved our road map forward in leaps and bounds. But we do not have the law – yet. Despite the extraordinary efforts of our teams and all the other tireless peace advocates and congressional allies who traveled with us in this difficult journey of a thousand miles, we saw the session days in Congress wither away, without a BBL in sight,” said GPH chief negotiator Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer in her opening statement delivered on Feb. 10.
“We have learned our lessons. The problem is structural and systemic… There is widespread frustration on the ground by our people and members of the MILF. They accused the government of resorting again to delaying tactic and just managing the conflict in Mindanao,” commented Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator and chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the body that drafted the original BBL draft.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate recessed last Feb. 5 till after the May 9 national and local elections without passing the BBL. The proposed law would have established a strong autonomous regional parliamentary government that would replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The non-passage of the law would lead to the archiving of the bill by the current Congress, which means it would have to be re-filed again when the new Congress convenes in July.
While the non-passage of the legislative measure has made it difficult for the Bangsamoro peace process to move forward and increased uncertainty on the ground, Ferrer stressed that the path remains clear as the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) remains signed and in place together with the many peace infrastructures established through it.
“The CAB remains our most viable road map, the source of the substance of the policies and legislation that we will continue to pursue under the next administration and the 17th Congress. The next administration would be foolhardy to wage war, and [have] everything to gain by upholding this pathway. It will have enough time to see both the CAB and a CAB-compliant law realized,” Ferrer added.
“The MILF and the government shall jointly find ways and means to address this dangerous situation and avoid actions that may increase the frustrations. We must provide them hope that there is a chance for passage of a CAB-compliant BBL whoever will be the next President,” commented Iqbal.
Addressing directly the Filipino people, Iqbal said that everyone should “work together to overcome the barriers to peace, justice, and reconciliation. Let us end the war, the suffering, the tragedy, and pains of our peoples, of the soldiers and our heroic fighters, of our mothers and sisters, of our children. Let us try to live quiet and peaceful lives.”
Ferrer acknowledged that more work would have to be done. “We should listen more, engage more. This cause is ours, and so the main burden is ours. We shall prevail if we don’t give up now. How many times in the past did events play out to push us almost to the brink of giving up? But precisely because we persevered, we have reached this far in the process,” added Ferrer.
Support for the Bangsamoro remains intact
Joining the GPH and the MILF panels in Malaysia are European Union Ambassador (EU) Franz Jessen; United Kingdom Representative to the International Contact Group (ICG) Thomas Phipps; Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Chair Mo Bleeker; Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) Chair Mustafa Pulat; and Third-Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) Chair Alistair MacDonald. Malaysia, as third-party facilitator, is continued to be represented by Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed.
The Malaysian facilitator commented that the upcoming elections must not deter the peace process from moving forward. “Let’s think how we will move forward. We must preserve the gains, we must continue… Changing of government doesn’t mean changing of infrastructure. We may add, but not subtract.”
“The journey has not yet ended but the meeting today demonstrates that the perseverance and commitment have not been lost. The Parties, meeting here today, are proving that they, that you, are resilient and truly committed to peace. This is an important message to the public,” said EU Ambassador Jessen, who was invited by the panels to observe the meeting.
“I encourage the Government of the Philippines and the MILF to continue seeking the paths for the implementation of commitments made over the 17 years of negotiations and continue their engagements. This meeting is crucial as it will offer the opportunity to reassess, reschedule, and prepare for the next phase of the process,” he added.
Bleeker, chair of the TJRC, commented, “I want to commend both panels and this architecture for peace mediation. It is true. On the one hand it is unique. On the other there are many examples in the world in which I’ve also been involved and in which transitional justice and reconciliation efforts appear to be one of the main components of what becomes a durable solution.”
“We have been told that there was a Bangsamoro problem. We come here with one unique message—that there is a Bangsamoro opportunity for the Philippines…”
For his part, Pulat commented that he wished that “the domestic politics in the Philippines would allow us to carry forward our work.” The non-passage of the BBL will delay the decommissioning process of MILF weapons and combatants as the CAB dictates that its process moves along with the legislative progress of the proposed measure. “The IDB is committed to continue as an independent, relevant, adaptable, active, and a stakeholder in the normalization. I can also reaffirm the support of the Turkish, Norwegian, and Brunei governments as member countries of the IDB.”
TPMT’s MacDonald commented that the next leaders of the Philippine government have no other recourse but to preserve the gains of the peace process and to continue its implementation toward the passage of the BBL. “No government can afford to neglect the peace process: not for reasons of national development, not for reasons of national security, and not for reasons that belittle the importance of not creating a climate for violent extremism.”