Bangsamoro in transition (3): Transitions within the transition

3rd of a series: Transitions within the transition

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 July) – When the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) presented its draft peace agreement to the Aquino administration in February 2011, it proposed a long transition period of seven years — one year pre-interim and six years interim — enough time to prepare for the new autonomous political entity that would be set up to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In July 2012, however, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim announced in a press conference in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan that they had agreed to shorten the transition period to three years.

“Originally that transition should be around six years because it is our conviction that we need a longer period to prepare the Bangsamoro to govern themselves,” Murad said, but the government (GPH) peace panel, then under former UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen (now Supreme Court Associate Justice), argued that if the transition period would be six years “then it will be passed on to the next President because the term of President Aquino will end in 2016.”

“So we said we can compromise. We can compromise for three years transition period,” Murad said, adding that within this period, “we hope we can be able to fast track the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the government.”

What is important, he said, is that the agreement signed “will be implemented” because “an agreement that is not implemented will just be a piece of paper.”

President Aquino had sought a meeting with Murad on August 4, 2011 and in that first face-to-face encounter in Japan, they agreed to fast-track the peace process so that an agreement can be forged in the first half of Aquino’s administration (2010 to 2013) and implementation can be done in the second half (2013 to 2016).

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012 by the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF provides for “the need for a transition period” but did not specify a timeframe.

15-month delay

But the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, signed in February 2013, said the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which will take over from the ARMM that would be abolished when the Bangsamoro Basic Law shall have been ratified, “shall continue to perform its functions as interim Bangsamoro Government until the duly elected officials of the Bangsamoro shall have been qualified into office in 2016.”

Both parties agreed to a roadmap that would target June 30, 2016, the day the Aquino administration ends, as the day the regular Bangsamoro government would be installed, its first set of elected officials taking over from the President-appointed, MILF-led BTA.

When Murad announced in July 2012 that the MILF had agreed to a three-year transition and the FAB was signed in October that same year, both sides committed to finish the annexes and sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) by yearend 2012.

Under the FAB, both parties committed to work on the four annexes to the FAB – power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements and modalities – “and complete a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year.”

The annexes were signed in February, July and December 2013 and January 2014 and the CAB was finally signed on March 27, 2014 or nearly 15 months after the supposed deadline of December 2012.


At the session on “Institutionalization of the Bangsamoro Government” on the second day of The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6) seminar in Hiroshima on June 24, Juan Mayo Ragragio, consultant of The Asia Foundation in the Bangsamoro Development Agency-Bangsamoro Development Plan (BDA-BDP) team listed three phases in the transition: the first phase covering the mandated life of the BTC, the second phase covering the mandated period of the BTA and the third phase covering the post-BTA period.

Ragragio said the transition “needs to be managed” and cited five major components of a management mechanism for the transition process: a Transition Team that would assist the BTA in providing uninterrupted delivery of public services during transition and in designing and establishing a new bureaucracy; a Transition Oversight Committee to shepherd the transition process; a strong policy support team particularly because the new political entity will be “using a governance platform heretofore alien to Philippine public administration;” the organization of two critical inter-governmental bodies mentioned in the Annexes: the Central Government-Bangsamoro Intergovernmental Relations Body and the Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board; and the Constituency Building Campaign which is “designed to inform the region’s constituents about the Basic Law and the vision of the new government and to encourage them to ‘baseline’ their community governments at all levels, and help the regional government monitor changes in the behavior of local and regional government officials.”

While the first phase started with the appointment in February last year of the 15-member joint GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the BTC couldn’t finish its task until all four annexes to the FAB and the CAB itself, were signed. The last annex was signed in January 2014 while the CAB was signed on March 27, 2014.

The BTC submitted its draft to the Office of the President on April 22. Malacanang took two months in reviewing it and handed over a copy of the reviewed draft to the MILF with the proposed revisions on June 21.

Murad and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and the BTC brought to the President’s attention their “concerns” over the proposed revisions, in a meeting with the President on June 24 in Hiroshima, with the latter later saying in Iloilo on June 27 that Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles had been tasked to meet with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. “to hasten the process of coming up with the proposed measure that both sides can fully support and endorse.”

Iqbal in a speech in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26 said the government’s proposed revisions “heavily diluted” and practically rejected the BBL drafted by the BTC.

Iqbal also stressed that they have a “very simple and straightforward” position on the BBL: “All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the parties.”

“Life or death”

Whether or not the draft Basic Law that both the government and MILF “can fully support and endorse” would be submitted to Congress when it reopens on July 28, will depend on what the two parties would do between now and July 28.

The delay will impact on the next steps – legislation by Congress, ratification, the establishment of the BTA and how long – or short – would be the period within which it can “demonstrate its abilities” as President Aquino said, in preparation for the election of the first set of officials by May 2016.

MindaNews columnist Patricio P. Diaz who has been writing about the Bangsamoro struggle and peace processes since the 1960s, estimates the BTA will have only about six months to do its tasks, if the target is to install the regular government by June 30, 2016.

“This is the fact: The Aquino III government is most concerned of the sufficiency of time for the election, not for the transition proper or proper transition. That is borne out by their many official and press statements,” Diaz wrote in his July 2 column.

“The election season starts in January 2016. The real proper transition period ends in December 2015. If the promulgation of the BBL is pushed to the second quarter of 2015, that leaves six months for the transition proper starting with the creation of the BTA and the appointment of its members to administer the transition. What kind of transition can be done in six months?” Diaz asked.

“Transition is life or death to Bangsamoro. Properly done, it’s boom; improperly, bust and doom! Time is most crucial to transition,” he said.

In the same session at the COP-6, Magdalena Mendoza, Senior Vice-President of the Development Academy of the Philippines said they see three priorities that the BTA has to focus on: to undertake strategic review and prepare the existing institutions for restructuring, mindful of the solid foundations of good and effective public administration; to put in place the necessary procedures and mobilize, recruit and build the capacities of the Bangsamoro Government executives and personnel; and to manage the transition, and ensure that critical services are maintained even while preparations for the Bangsamoro Government are underway.

Can these be done in six months? In one year? (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Last part tomorrow: Capacity-building and capacity-mobilization