TURNING POINT: Hoping in Hope

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 26 March) – On Thursday, 27 of March 2014, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will finally sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). This event publicly announces the successful negotiation on the details (Four Annexes) of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), which lays down the general features and steps of the peace-making process, signed on October 15, 2012.

The signing of the final peace accord tomorrow caps three years of patient, dedicated and painstaking work in preparing the ground for the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity (government and territorial domain) that would give peace a chance in Mindanao.

The entire nation has all the reasons to be excited and jubilant over this development. In the history of agreements signed in pursuit of peace in the Region, it is the CAB that promises so much hope of succeeding. The CAB has gone deep into the crucibles of social and political preparations, in creating safety nets and compliance review mechanisms, and in intensive public consultations to ascertain that the errors in past peace-making will be avoided and corrected, and that the new autonomous political entity to be established shall be able to eventually stand from out of its own strength under the general supervision of the national government.

The Government and the MILF panels went through many nerve-wracking moments in the assessment and resolution of sensitive and contentious issues and concerns along security, socio-economic, transitional justice, and social reconciliation, as well as on the political and legislative process that would lead to the establishment of Bangsamoro, to replace the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) spell out the details of the entire groundwork and infrastructure of peace, to wit: (1) Normalization; (2) Transitional Arrangements and Modalities; (3) Revenue Generations and Wealth Sharing; and (4) Power-Sharing.

The annex on normalization deals with decommissioning the armed elements of the MILF and outlines the steps to disarm private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro territory. MILF Peace Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal considered the normalization annex as the most sensitive and emotional of all issues because it requires a lot of sacrifices on the part of the MILF. Iqbal said that “to pay for peace, real peace in Mindanao, we have to decommission our arms and put them beyond use.”

The annex on transitional arrangements and modalities is likewise sensitive, delicate and compelling requiring a process and mechanism to deal with transitional justice and healing. It will address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices, and resolve issues on human rights violations.

The two other annexes on revenue generations and wealth sharing and that of power sharing define the economic and political powers that the Bangsamoro government will exclusively exercise, concurrent or shared powers between the Bangsamoro and the Central Government, and that which are reserved to the Central Government. The annexes are basically concerned with the structure and sustainability of governance.

The 15-member Transition Commission composed of MILF members and representatives of the national government will craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law using the four annexes of the Framework Agreement as guides. The draft law will be submitted to Congress for deliberation and enactment. Once the law is passed, a plebiscite will then be held within the proposed Bangsamoro core territory to ratify it and determine the territorial jurisdiction of the new political entity to replace ARMM. The people in the area will decide whether they will join the Bangsamoro Region or not.

The proposed Bangsamoro core territory will consist of the existing provinces (Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) of the ARMM and Marawi City; the cities of Cotabato and Isabela; the six municipalities in Lanao del Norte that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite (Baloi, Munai, Pantar, Nunungan, Tagoloan, Tangkal); and the barangays in six municipalities of North Cotabato province that likewise voted for inclusion in 2001 (Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap).

Other contiguous areas may integrate with the Bangsamoro territory. What is required is a resolution for inclusion from the local government unit or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters. This will be submitted to the GPH and the MILF panels at least two months before the conduct of the plebiscite. The petitioning areas may become part of the Bangsamoro if the majority of the voters in said places voted for their inclusion during the plebiscite.

Once the Basic Law has been approved and ratified, the laws (RA 6734 and RA 9054) creating and amending, respectively, the Organic Act on the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be repealed. The current government of ARMM shall thereupon cease to exist. The MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) provided for in the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be constituted and members appointed by the President. It will take over governance in the area and institute the necessary mechanisms to initially run the Bangsamoro ministerial government and prepare for the first regular elections under the Basic Law in May 2016.

It is still a long way to go. There are still a lot of hard work and many challenges to face ahead. There would certainly be obstacles to overcome in the journey after tomorrow – in the crafting of the Basic Law, in its enactment in Congress, in its ratification in the plebiscite, in the final scope of the Bangsamoro territorial jurisdiction, and in the conduct of the first elections.

The uncertainties could be overwhelming but the success of the whole peace enterprise remains very promising. The sincerity of the current leadership of the government and that of the MILF is beyond question. The government and the MILF both recognize that the conflict in Mindanao can never be settled by military means. Also, it is only in this peace negotiation that the MILF has declared its abandonment of its secession goal and its aspiration to build an Islamic State. It also yielded to the crucial need to decommission its armed wing and therefore put their arms beyond use. It is only in this peace-making process that the issues on transitional justice and healing are addressed. A third party and international monitoring teams are also in place to monitor and review implementation and compliance of all signed agreements and annexes.

And because of the intensive information drive and public consultations, especially in affected areas, the peace process has thus gained encouraging support from the general public, the local governments, NGOs and civil societies, the church and religious groups, and from the international communities.

At the end of the day, what determines success in any negotiation is the sincerity and commitment of those involved. It seems the negotiating parties have a wellspring of this imperative to enable them to develop resiliency in overcoming obstacles and uncertainties in the long road to peace.

We can hope in hope.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., was a research and extension worker, professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. He was a British Council fellow and trained in 1994 at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, on Participatory Planning and Environmentally Responsible Development. Upon retirement, he served as national consultant to the ADB-DENR project on integrated coastal resource management. He is the immediate past president of the MSU Alumni Association)