Bangsamoro in transition (4): Capacity building, capacity mobilization

Last of four parts: Capacity building, capacity mobilization

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 06 July) – On September 9, 1996, exactly a week after the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed the Final Peace Agreement (FPA), MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari, backed up by the administration party and running unopposed because then President Fidel Ramos ordered his rival candidate to withdraw, was elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for a term of three years.

According to the FPA, the law amending the Organic Act creating the ARMM was to be amended within two years — or by 1998 — to allow for its expansion and incorporate the other provisions of the peace pact. The date for passage was targeted for 1998 because Ramos’ term was ending on June 30, 1998.

Also within the three-year term, the transitional implementing mechanisms and structures, among them the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Developme and the Consultative Assembly, were to be set up, in preparation for the election of officials of what was envisioned to be an expanded, empowered autonomous region, by 1999.

Deliberations for what would become RA 9054 went beyond 1998, however, forcing government to appoint Misuari on holdover capacity after his three-year term lapsed.

RA 9054 was finally passed amid a transition in the national leadership brought about by the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada and the assumption of Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as President in January 2001.

RA 9054 was passed on February 7, 2011 with Misuari and company protesting that the law rendered their future expanded autonomous government less autonomous than the ARMM.

Arroyo did not sign RA 9054. It lapsed into law on March 31, 2001.

Misuari had vowed in 1996 that he would appoint “the best and the brightest” to his Cabinet. That was not to be.

Assuming the leadership of the region on September 30, 1996, or only 28 days after the signing of the peace pact and 21 days after his election as governor, the MNLF, was thrust into a governance system it was not prepared for.

While he did appoint a few “best and the brightest,” the rest were through political accommodation, Misuari naming them to please their endorsers such as loyal rebel commanders, local politicians and even the highest officials of the land.

MNLF insiders often retell the story of how Misuari had to recall the appointment of a highly qualified person to a major Cabinet post, because a top national official endorsed someone else for the post.

Lessons from the MNLF

Learning lessons from the MNLF, the Moro Isamic Liberation Front (MILF) pushed for capacity-building mechanisms as the peace process – officially started in 1997 – moved forward.

These include the establishment of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI), which was agreed upon in February 2006 by then government (GPH) peace panel chair Silvestre Afable and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal “as a capacty-building center for emerging leaders and professionals.”

The Arroyo administration, however, wasn’t able to deliver P5 million it promised to help start up the BLMI. It was only after the August 4, 2011 meeting in Japan between President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim when the amount was released.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, ARMM Executive Secretary from December 2009 to December 2011, discussed in a public forum in late August 2011 the need to ensure that the that GPH and MILF peace agreement would not suffer the same fate as the agreement with the MNLF.

“To implement it successfully you need certain ingredients and one basic ingredient would be the capacity to govern. That’s important, Sinarimbo said, adding, “we had an experience in 1996, with apologies to the members of the MNLF… in 1996 the MNLF did not transition from revolutionary government to one now mandated to govern.”

What happened, he said, was that the guerilla experience was brought into the ARMM.

“What was the problem there? Of course, when you’re a guerilla, you don’t make proposals in writing and you don’t refer your proposal to a Provincial Planning and Development Office for assessment. Neither are you required to prepare vouchers that will be reviewed by everybody, the Commission on Audit. You don’t do that in a revolutionary movement. In an insurgency, you don’t do that because only two elements are important to you: the element of surprise and the element of secrecy. In government, it is transparency and accountability and adherence to processes,” he said.

“What happened before was pag di nakasueldo 15 days, barilin ang kaha de yero … di dadaan sa proseso.” (if they weren’t able to draw salary in 15 days, they would shoot the vault) and detain the personnel of the cash division in their office. “These were among the challenges experienced in 1996,” Sinarimbo noted.

The same experience will be repeated, he warned, “if you are not careful about transitioning from a revolutionary movement, from a rebel group into governance. If you don’t have the capacity, you have to find some other way of doing it. One year hindi ho sufficient to capacitate people… sa capacity development, overnight we cannot transform them,” he said.

Capacity mobilization

MILF chair Al Haj Murad himself had acknowledged the need to build “a strong foundation for the institutions” that will be created in the Bangsamoro and that the people who would run the institutions “must be competent.”

In his keynote address at The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6) seminar in Hiroshima on June 23, Murad said the MILF as revolutionary organization “realizes the fact that as we move towards the transition to governance and development, certain capacities need to be built. We may even boldly say that capacity building, given time constraints, may not even be sufficient for us to surmount the many challenges we would face in leading the Bangsamoro government and hence, capacity mobilization maybe a better option so that we can respond more timely and appropriately to the expectations of our people who’ve been deprived of proper governance for a long time.”

Murad said that as a revolutionary organization, “many of our skill sets that have proven effective in the days of combat may no longer be the ones that will be needed in this new phase of our struggle.”

He acknowledged the need to “learn new skills, challenge our ability to adopt to the changing needs of the time” and the need for inclusivity. He said they “welcome in our ranks those who are equipped with the needed skills and are committed to the cause of the Bangsamoro.”

“We must struggle to rise above partisanship and radiate the MILF agenda so that it may become the Bangsamoro agenda. We must continue to see the greater things beyond ourselves so that the MILF vision becomes a Bangsamoro vision. We must embrace the future so that we may honor our past,” he said.

The MILF will lead what is proposed to be a 50-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that will govern a ministerial form of government when the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) shall have been ratified and the ARMM is abolished.

The plebiscite will determine how many of the core areas listed in the October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) will constitute the Bangsamoro. It could be more, or less, than the present ARMM’s five provinces and two cities.

Under the Annex on Power-Sharing, both parties agreed to “entrench an electoral system suitable to a ministerial form of government.”

The two parties are eyeing the synchronized national elections of May 9, 2016 as the day the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro is elected. Election campaign period will begin on March 25, 2016.

“Work in progress”

The MILF in an editorial posted on its website on March 16, 2014 said the BTA would have “daunting tasks” when it assumes power by 2015 as it has to “set up institutions, write the local government code, the administrative code, and the election code for the Bangsamoro.”

“More importantly, it has to provide leadership and unify the Bangsamoro people and rally them towards the vision set forth more than 40 years ago by the late MILF chair Salamat Hashim,” it said.

In his presentation at the COP-6, Guiamel Alim, chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society said the Bangsamoro is a “work in progress” and that “many things can still happen in between.”

He noted that while there are “hopefuls” and “pessimists,” there are also the “doubtfuls” who are raising so many questions, including the issue on constitutionality of the Basic Law.

He said the other questions raised by the “doubtfuls” are: “What will happen if in the plebiscite, other territories in the present ARMM, will opt not to join the Bangsamoro? Will ministerial form of government be a good alternative to what we have today?What happens if in the post-agreement elections the MILF is politically excluded? Will they still pursue the agreement on normalization, particularly the decommissioning component?Can there be two claimants of ancestral domain in the Bangsamoro?”

He cited a study by Barbara Walter titled “Committing to Peace” that one of the reasons why combatants return to war in a post-signing scenario is “when they are marginalized
in a post-conflict government, when they become politically excluded in running
the new government.”

Alim hopes this will not happen to the MILF.

“The challenge therefore is for the MILF not to be politically excluded in the post-BTA era. It is not enough to hand over the key of the new government to just anyone. The hard-earned political gains of the long peace talks should be sustained and the expression of self-determination manifested through government services,” he said.

MindaNews’ Patrico Diaz, who has been writing about the Bangsamoro struggle and peace processes since the 1960s proposed in a series of columns in March-April 2014 that the roadmap to peace be “readjusted” to allow for a three-year transition period reckoned from the time the BTA takes over from the ARMM, to give it enough time for a proper transition into the regular Bangsamoro government.

The MILF had earlier proposed for a seven-year transition period – one-year pre-interim and six years interim – but agreed to a compromise in July 2012 to cut it down to three years so that both parties can fast-track implementation of the peace agreement before the Aquino administration steps down on June 30, 2016.

“Boom or bust”

Diaz said the five tasks the MILF said the BTA was set to do will spell “boom or bust” of the Bangsamoro.

He said these are the keys to realizing what the government and MILF had agreed upon: that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for a new autonomous political entity that Diaz said should not be “just a new name for the ARMM.”

From the start of his administration on June 30, 2010, President Aquino had vowed to put an end to the cycle of peace negotiations that he inherited from past administrations, that he would not pass on the problem to the next administration and that he will commit only to what he can deliver.

At the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsmoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, Aquino acknowledged that changing the status quo is “even more daunting” than being President.

“I do not want to just take my turn on a merry-go-round that goes nowhere but round and round—to perpetuate or even exacerbate existing problems. I would rather ride the horse that actually leads to a definite destination,” he said.

Serious problems are presently hounding the peace process, with the MILF complaining that the Malacanang-proposed revisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the present ARMM.

How the government and the MILF can come up with a Basic Law that President Aquino hopes both “can fully support and endorse” and resolve the other transition-related issues, will determine if, indeed, they can reach a “definite destination.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)