Membership in body drafting Bangsamoro law up from 15 to 21; panels begin work ASAP

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/14 Aug) – Membership in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft the new Bangsamoro law has been increased from 15 to 21, “to ensure inclusivity,” the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace implementing panels said in their Joint Statement Sunday at the end of a two-day meeting here, the first under the Duterte administration.

The two panels – each referred to in the Joint Statement as “Peace Implementing Panel” — also agreed to “meet regularly in the Philippines.”

Peace Implementing panel chairs Irene Santiago of the GPH and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF show reporters their signed Joint Statement, with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Peace Implementing panel chairs Irene Santiago of the GPH and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF show reporters their signed Joint Statement, with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

The MILF, which will lead the BTC will nominate 11 members while the government will nominate 10.

The panels also recommended the issuance of a revised Executive Order on the BTC.

Under the Aquino administration, an Executive Order based on the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was issued in December 2012 by President Aquino. The 15 members of the BTC were named on February 25, 2013 and their appointments considered ended as of July 31, 2016.

GPH Peace Implementing Panel chair Irene Santiago and Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chair, read the two-page Joint Statement and showed the signed document at the start of the press conference.

The two panels agreed to “work collaboratively and cooperatively to ensure efficient and inclusive implementation of the GPH-MILF signed agreements.”

The GPH and MILF signed the FAB on October 15, 2012 and its four Annexes, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2016.

Implementation of the two agreements were started under the Aquino administration but were not completed.

The 15-member BTC under the Aquino administration, drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which was vetted by Office of the President and submitted it to Congress on September 10, 2014. The Senate and House of Representatives came up with their own versions, both titled Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR), that were not acceptable to the MILF and the GPH peace panels, claiming they rendered the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it sought to replace.

The 16th Congress adjourned without passing the BBL.

The Normalization process was also started under the Aquino administration with the symbolic decommissioning on June 16, 2015 of 55 high-powered and 20 crew-served weapons to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in the presence of then President Benigno Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, as well as the decommissioning of 145 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing.

The 2015 decommissioning, however, was only the first of four phases agreed upon by the parties, as the other phases were tied up to the political milestones: 30% of the forces and weapons decommissioned during the second phase when the BBL is ratified, 35% more in the third phase and the last 35% in the fourth phase.

The MILF’s BIAF has an estimated 10,000-strong armed force.

The panels also agreed to implement the deliverables under the Program for Normalization, including the Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund.

“Stay with us until the end”

Although Malaysia has been facilitating the talks since 2001, facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tenku Mohamed, said at the August 13 launch here of the “implementation phase” under the Duterte administration, that he sees two phases of the implementation: the passage of an enabling law which does not involve third party facilitation, and the decommissioning of the MILF where “my role might be needed.”

“If they need me, am on call 24 hours,” Tengku said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim both thanked Malaysia for facilitating the talks.

Dureza expressed “big appreciation .. for Malaysia for keeping faith with us, facilitating us and making possible this particular milestone we have today.

“Stay with us until the end,” he said.

Meetings in Philipppines

Most of the meetings of the GPH and MILF peace panels during the negotiation phase were held in Kuala Lumpur but meetings of the implementing panels will now be held regularly in the Philippines.

The panels will meet in Davao City on August 20.

Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, a member of the MILF Implementing Panel said there is a “routinary meeting” of the Task Force for normalization in relation to the MILF camps next week and will be followed by “some strategic planning.”

Santiago earlier told MindaNews during a break from the day-long meeting that there will be a “joint strategic planning.”

BTC membership

Iqbal, the BTC chair under the Aquino administration, said the designation of the 15-member BTC ended on July 31.

He said the 11 members of the soon-to-be reconstituted 21-member BTC, will be decided upon by the MILF Central Committee.”

“We will start from scratch as far as the membership is concerned. The options are open. Maybe some can be retained,” he said, adding “new faces” would also come in.

Secretary Dureza, who was invited to the press conference of the panels, said they will work on the 10 nominees but assured the public that the nominees would be vetted with different sectors “to make it as inclusive as possible.”

No time to waste

Dureza said the timeline is “as soon as possible,” and noted that the panels had agreed to a “series of other meetings” in the Philippines.

“In other words there is no time to waste,” he said.

He said he does not want to make comparisons but the peace process was back on track quickly in just a little over a month under the Duterte administration.

Iqbal said he does not want to compare administrations but noted that “the signs are very good that we could have more success stories especially when we look at the statement of President Duterte.”

Correcting historical injustices

He said Duterte’s resolve to correct the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro is “very encouraging.”

He said Duterte is the first President to mention and acknowledge the historical injustices committed against them.

Santiago, a member of the GPH peace panel under then chief negotiator Dureza from 2001 to 2003, noted the “big difference” between negotiating and implementing and said they set a “very good tone in this meeting” by going into a “problem-solving mode.”

“When Chairman Murad said ‘joint and collaborative,’ it was a very easy transition to implementing phase because everybody agreed this is not negotiation but we are going to implement,” she said.

“The mode of working has been established and we look forward with great optimism,” she said.

“Signs are great now that we have political will of the President and very positive support from Secretary Dureza,” Iqbal said.

Santiago’s panel members are all from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process: Undersecretaries Nabil Tan and Diosita Andot and Assistant Secretaries Dickson Hermoso and Rolly Asuncion.

Iqbal’s panel members are Prof. Lingga, Abdullah Camlian, Said Shiek and Timuay Melanio Ulama. Ulama represents the Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro core territory. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)