FROM REBELLION TO GOVERNANCE: The Challenges of Transition

(Speech delivered by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front at the 16thAsian Statesmen’s Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia on 26 August 2018)

Bismillahi Rahmnir Rahim

The organizers, fellow discussants, guests, ladies and gentlemen-

Assalamu Alaykum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Good morning to all of you!

I am truly honored today to join a panel of distinguished panelists across Asia to discuss the political and economic situation in our respective areas.

I am pleased to share with you the current political and economic situation in our region – the Bangsamoro, which is south of the Philippines.

The region as you know has been for decades the situs of conflict that has claimed the lives of more than a hundred thousand people and stunted its development and progress. The conflict for decades appeared intractable and for several years we have been attempting to resolve it through negotiations.

However, just last month, the Congress of the Philippines passed, and immediately thereafter, the President of the Republic, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, signed into law this landmark legislation called the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro or RA 11054.

The Organic Law for the Bangsamoro is an attempt to translate into law the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement we signed with the Philippine Government in 2014. The CAB in turn is an attempt to address the so-called Bangsamoro Question. The Bangsamoro Question is centered around the issues of historical injustice, identity, right to self-determination, equitable sharing on resources, free exercise of religion, culture and tradition, governmental relations between a sub-national entity and a central government.

The Law as it stands now addresses the aforesaid issues of identity, or more particularly, recognizes the Bangsamoro identity, grants territorial jurisdiction to the Bangsamoro political entity, establishes a parliamentary system of government for the Bangsamoro, allows the establishment of shariah court with expanded jurisdiction, provides for a share of the Bangsamoro in national taxes and grants the Bangsamoro an equitable share in the revenue generated from the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources within its jurisdiction.

In fine, the law, despite its inherent limitations, addresses many of the fundamental issues in the Bangsamoro question and allows it to evolve and continue the assertion and complete resolution of the issues between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government. But this time around, it is thru a democratic and peaceful means.

The last remaining hurdle for this law is the forthcoming plebiscite which is scheduled not earlier than 90 days nor later than 150 days after its passage.

As we prepare to transition from rebel to governance, may I candidly share with you some of the challenges that we face in the hope that valuable lessons across Asia may provide us insights on how best we can deal with these challenges.

  1. First is the challenge of transitioning around 30,000 to 40,000 of our combatants from fighters to productive civilians. The task of providing accompaniment programs for them and of insuring that they benefit from the dividend of peace is daunting.
  2. Second is the challenge of transitioning from revolutionaries to governance. The skills and practices that we may have accumulated over the long years of the revolution may not necessarily fit or be appropriate in running a government. Secrecy and stealth in guerilla warfare may run counter to the very idea of transparency and openness in government; destruction as an objective in military action may need to shift to construction in governance.
  3. Kick starting the economy in a region which has been in perennial conflict may take time as several issues need to be addressed more carefully such as a comprehensive economic and development plan, resource generation and allocation, a policy environment conducive to economic growth, and access to capital and market.
  4. Job generation and attractive investments into the region. Given the enormous numbers of our combatants who will transition into civilians and hopefully productive lives coupled with the low employment opportunity in the region, it is imperative that we create more jobs and attract more investments. How to deliver on this is easier said than done.
  5. Making peace and keeping the peace. The first true test of a successful implementation of a peace agreement is not just in making peace but more importantly in keeping the peace. While we may have addressed the vertical conflict between us and the Philippine government, we can anticipate an increase in horizontal violence. As our guns fell silent with that of the government, it is important to recognize and address the issue of the proliferation of guns in the hands of civilians and other private armed groups. There can be no effective governance in an environment of guns.
  6. Delivering the dividends of peace amidst high expectation. After a long and protracted war, many people in the region expect a sudden and dramatic change in their lives. We know of course that development and progress would take time but it is important to deliver quickly so that we can maintain a reasonable degree of hope and trust in our people as we gradually work on a more sustainable development for the region.
  7. Developing the trust between us and the national government. The long conflict created a divide between us and the national government. We need to work on increasing the trust and cooperation between us since we can only move forward as partners and not as adversaries.

As we move towards a successful implementation of our peace agreement, may we call on everyone to assist us and help us realize our aspirations as a people. Our success, I am sure will redound to the benefit not just of our country but of Asia in general.