COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/02 May) – A former Ambassador who is now a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission says the process they are going through now in preparation for the establishment of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by June 30, 2016, is “about hope.”
“The process we are going through now is about Hope. We are going to bring hope to every family in the Bangsamoro land. We have been at war for almost five decades now. It is our duty, every Muslim in this country, to bring that hope to every family, from the islands to the mainland,” Commissioner Akmad Sakkam of Sulu, a retired Ambassador, told a press conference at the end of the two-day session at the Alnor Hotel on Wednesday afternoon.
Sakkam, who served as Ambassador to Iraq, Bahrain and Oman, said the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) which the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on October 15, 2012 “is a big leap forward in our endeavor” as they await the signing of the remaining three annexes to the FAB that would complete the comprehensive peace pact.
“Can you imagine if we can bring between two covers into the basic law, the aspirations of our people, the culture, our identity and then the whole of the country recognizes that and there will be peace. That is the premium we have to pay, a big premium that will bring in tourism, investments and a happy life for all our people throughout the land,” said Sakkam.
The Transition Commission (TransCom) is tasked, among others, to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
It was the second meeting since their ceremonial opening in Pasig City on April 3 and the first to be held in Cotabato, where it is based.
TransCom chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent MILF peace panel chair, described the two-day session sponsored by the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, as a “learning session” for the 15-member body. All 15 members – eight from the MILF and seven from the GPH — were present.
“I am happy to report that our sessions had been engaging, cordial and productive,” Iqbal told reporters.
He said the two-day session fostered “closer participation and relationship between and among its members and laid down the strong foundation for the Commission’s challenging tasks ahead.”
Prof. Yash Ghai, an authority on Constitution and Basic Law making and his wife, Dr. Jill Cottrell, “an expert in promoting public participation and advocacy” were the resource persons on Tuesday, along with Nasser Marohomsalic, a former commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and a member of the 1988 Regional Consultative Commission that was tasked to draft the Organic Act for what would be the ARMM, and Benedicto Bacani, Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance and former Dean of the College of Law of the Notre Dame University, who facilitated the session.
Ghai drafted the Asian Human Rights Charter – A People’s Charter, a project of the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is also the Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice. Cottrell worked on constitutional projects in Sri Lanka, East Timor, Nepal. Somalia, South Africa and Iraq and played a key role in the elaboration fo the Kenya constitution.
Iqbal said the session “greatly helped” them in looking at options to effectively organize its “structures, work plans, budget and internal rules.”
On Wednesday, Iqbal said, the TransCom agreed on steps to be undertaken for the adoption of its structures, work plans, budget and internal rules.
He said they will meet again two weeks later for a three-day workshop on the work plan and “eventually to adopt our structures, work plans and rules.”
Defining “as soon as possible”
Iqbal said body agreed to set up four working committees: the Committes on Basic Law, Proposal to make amendments to the Constitution if necessary, Socio-economic and Relevant Functions.
Only the first three have been set up thus far but they will finalize the committee memberships in the next sessions, he said.
Asked if they had agreed on a timeframe, Iqbal said, “we have in mind to finish it as soon as possible” but added that defining “as soon as possible” will depend on the work plan they will adopt.
Most of the sessions of the TransCom will be held here but sessions will also be held “in Marawi City, in Basilan, perhaps Sulu, and also Zamboanga so that our people will feel that the Transition Commission is not only for the people in the mainland,” he said.
On possible roadblocks ahead, Commissioner Maulana Alonto of Lanao del Sur, said they are following a roadmap, that the obstacles for now are just speculations and that they would tackle any problem that comes along.
“We don’t want to go into speculations. We will cross the bridge when we get there. As the problems arise, we will tackle them,” said Alonto, concurrently a member of the MILF peace panel.
The TransCom was represented at the presscon by Iqbal, Sakkam and Alonto.
Sakkam said that in negotiations for peace, there are different parties – “parties with diverse interests, vested interests, personal interests” – but he said he told Prof. Ghai that the Bangsamoro is “very rich in one virtue: the virtue of patience.”
“We have to be patient,” Sakkam said as he again noted how the Bangsamoro have been at war with government continuously and how they have been “talking about our aspirations, our longing that one day we will find peace.”
He said they now have the FAB and the TransCom and a President “who understood our problem.”
He likened the Bangsamoro and President Aquino as “a rebellious son to a compassionate father, a son that through these years (has been) trying to disengage from the family and here is now the President (saying) ‘we welcome you, we give you what you want.’ And we are here, almost the penultimate chapter of our negotiations and hopefully we will arrive at that conclusion.”
Alonto said the TransCom will hold consultations within the ARMM, the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro, and even with the Bangsamoro outside the ARMM “because they are part of our constituency.”
Iqbal emphasized that consultation “is the heart of the peace process” so that everybody “owns the process.”
“No normal people would want to live in a perpetual state of war. Bangsmaoro people are normal people. We want to live in peace,” said Alonto.
“We have been fighting for the last 40 years. We want to put an end to the state of war that has been imposed on us,” he said, adding that the MILF has been negotiating for peace in the last 16 years. “That is a symbolism that we want to end this war and we want a peaceful life but not just a peaceful life per se but has to have justice. Peace with justice. We cannot live in a state of unpeace. No peace no war, that is purgatory to us.”
Asked what guarantee the TrasnCom members could give to ensure that the Bangsamoro Basic law that they will draft will work this time, Sakkam replied they have a common denominator among all the tribes: “the aspiration to create one single identity for all the Muslims, whether you are an islander or from the mainland. No more Tausog, no more Maguindanao. No more Maranao nor Yakan but one single identity, Bangsamoro identity for all Muslims so that it symbolizes regional unity among ourselves.”
Alonto said the TransCom is operating as one body, and not as government or as MILF.
He said the TransCom is a “microscopic image of the Bangsamoro nation operating as a nation.”
“We are operating as one body and I think we can move forward very fast if the annexes will be signed by the parties because we are all Bangsamoro and we are operating within the paradigm of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. So as long as we feel clearly as Bangsamoro and we are bound by that so there is no room for discrepancy, no room for quarrel, so the future of the Transition Commission is very bright,” Iqbal said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)