The dream “Bangsamoro” two years after the signing of the CAB

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 March) – At the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014 in the gardens of Malacanang, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebraim looked forward to 2016 as the inauguration of the “Bangsamoro” political entity.

Two years later, however, there is no “Bangsamoro” to inaugurate and celebrate.

Aquino, under whose administration the government finally concluded a peace agreement with the MILF 17 years and three administrations after the negotiations started in 1997, envisioned that that if the momentum for peace is sustained, “by 2016, the MILF will have shed its identity as a military force, and transformed itself into a political entity, casting its stake in democracy by vying for seats in the Bangsamoro elections.”

May 9, 2016 is supposedly the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro. Instead, it will be the 8th election of officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which the Bangsamoro political entity would have replaced had the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) been passed.

The draft BBL, crafted by the 15-member joint GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), was submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014.

“I expect the deliberations in Congress to be characterized by a sincere desire to improve on the Bangsamoro Basic Law—and not by self-interest that only aims to perpetuate an untenable status quo,” Aquino said.

Both parties had agreed that the status quo is unacceptable and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that will be “less than independence but more than ARMM.” That entity would have adopted a ministerial form of government.

Congress adjourned on February 3 this year without passing the basic law.

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) would have taken over from the ARMM had the BBL been ratified. And if political milestones had been met, the decommissioning of firearms and combatants would have continued beyond the symbolic decommissioning of 75 weapons and 144 combatants on June 14, 2015.

MILF chair Murad told the crowd of over a thousand guests from government and the MILF, civil society, diplomatic community, religious leaders, indigenous peoples and ‘bakwits’ (internally displaced peoples): “We celebrate today the shared victory of the Bangsamoro and the Filipino people.”

The CAB, he said, “finally brings with it the restoration of the identity, powers and resources of the Bangsamoro.”

“These three things which have been ours since time immemorial, unjustly taken through colonization and occupation, are now returned to us,” Murad said.

He said the CAB is the “crowning glory of our struggle… to find the final answer to the Bangsamoro Question,” a negotiated political agreement “that not only promises but guarantees mutual recognition, respect and restoration of the legitimate rights of the people in the Bangsamoro,” he added.

“With sincerity in our hearts, we offer the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to the Filipino people as the fullest articulation of our aspirations, and by it our unyielding belief that no more cause worth pursuing by force is left for others to take,” said Murad, who was long-time MILF vice chair for Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) who concurrently served as MILF peace panel chair when the peace talks resumed in 2001 following the “all-out war” declared by the Estrada administration in 2000.

Murad assumed the post of MILF chair following the death of founding chair Salamat Hashim in July 2003.

Murad envisioned that “upon the establishment of the new Bangsamoro Political Entity,” the role of the MILF “may be likened only to a gatekeeper for the duration of the transition period, where after such period the keys to the gate will be willingly handed over to the democratic will of the Bangsamoro. To be overly emphatic, it will not be a government of the MILF, but the government of the Bangsamoro.”
Aquino, who personally sought a meeting with Murad in Japan on August 4, 2011 to fast-track the peace process, called on the Filipino people to “widen the avenues for trust and positive engagement,” to “cast aside past prejudices, and contribute to the atmosphere of optimism that has, for the first time in a long while, become prevalent in Muslim Mindanao.”

“It should be the paramount concern of all people of goodwill to do their part: Let us exchange our bullets for ripening fruit, our cynicism for hope, our histories of sorrow for a future of harmony, peace, and prosperity,” the President said.

He said the Bangsamoro “shall form a perimeter of vigilance against the spread of extremism; it shall act as a bridge of moderation among the great faiths of the various constituencies in ASEAN. From this shared security, we shall enhance the era of prosperity that is dawning upon our region, and harness its energies towards creating a regime of opportunity and inclusivity where no one is left behind.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sir Mohd Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, whose country has been facilitating the GPH-MILF peace talks since 2001, noted that in signing the CAB, “the two sides have looked not to the problems of the past, but to the promise of the future.”

“After so many years of conflict, and so many lives lost, it is a momentous act of courage. And it will change their nation’s history,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)