DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 08 March) – Noting the “vast economic potential” of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed to boost economic ties between Malaysia and the Philippines and assured President Rodrigo Duterte that Malaysia will “continue to be of help in the development of Mindanao.”
Mahathir congratulated Duterte on “the success of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law and the appointment of members into the Bangsamoro Transition Authority” and said he looks forward to the smooth transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the BARMM through the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim government during the three-year transition until the first officials elected in May 2022 take their oath on June 30 that year.
Malaysia has been the third party facilitator in the peace process between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since 2001. It hosted and facilitated the talks in Kuala Lumpur that eventually led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014.
The CAB provides that at the end of the transition period, the government and MILF Peace Negotiating Panels, together with the Malaysian Facilitator and the Third Party Monitoring Team, shall convene a meeting to “review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all agreements and the progress of the transition and an ‘Exit Document’ officially terminating the peace negotiation may be crafted and signed by both Parties if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.”
The CAB’s enabling law, RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, paved the way for the creation of the BARMM, the new political entity that replaced the 28-year old ARMM. The turnover from the ARMM to the BARMM was held on February 26 in Cotabato City.
Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair and head of the BTA, was present during the dinner hosted by President Duterte.
“Peace will always bring opportunities”
Earlier on Thursday morning, Mahathir in an interview with Cathy Yang of ANC’s Market Edge, vowed to continue his government’s support for the Bangsamoro peace process.
“We are close by, we are neighbors. Whatever happens in Southern Philippines (Mindanao) affects Malaysia so we want Southern Philippines to be stable, peaceful, and we can then find opportunities here as much as we can help in contributing towards development, maybe through foreign direct investments as happened in Malaysia.”
“Peace will always bring about opportunities. A country at war, a country that is unstable will never grow, will never develop, will always remain backward, so we welcome peace wherever it happens and we think that in the case of Mindanao, when we say peace, it is now able to make use of opportunities to grow best in that part of the Philippines and then I think when the economy is doing well, the tendency towards violence will be much reduced,” he said.
On violent extremism, Mahathir said, it is important to identify its roots because “terrorism is caused by something. Identify that cause and try and deal or eliminate their causes, then there will be less extremism. But ignoring the cause and trying to fight extremism as if it is a conventional war, you are not going to succeed.”
He said it is important for the two countries to exchange information and to “devise means and ways of preventing our people from getting involved and also I think identify possible terrorists coming into our country.”
In Malacanang, Mahathir said one of the main priority areas he discussed with Duterte is to enhance connectivity which is vital to promoting economic development.
He said Malaysia and the Philippines have been actively involved in the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area) “and could use this platform to assist the Mindanao Development Authority.”
Then President Fidel Ramos and Mahathir launched the BIMP-EAGA in Davao City on March 24, 19994 to accelerate the economic growth of less developed areas of the participating member-countries.
Mahathir said he and Duterte also stressed the importance of education and discussed “programs for teachers and students in Madrasahs, especially in Mindanao.”
On security issues, Mahathir said Malaysia is committed “to take the necessary steps to address the serious issue of terrorism and violent extremism through the Trilateral Cooperation Agreement” where Malaysia and the Philippines together with Indonesia agreed to undertake unilateral maritime and air patrols to tackle the growing security challenges.
“Realizing the promise of Mindanao”
In his remarks, President Duterte said the Malaysian Prime Minister “shares the conviction that realizing the promise of Mindanao is crucial for all stakeholders in the region.”
He recalled Mahathir’s visit in Davao City at the launching of the BIMP-EAGA in 1994.
“For us Mindanaoans, it was a demonstration of confidence in the potentials of Mindanao and a bold investment for greater progress and prosperity for the region,” said Duterte, who, as Davao City mayor on his second term then, hosted the historic event.
“But in order to achieve lasting peace and growth, the Philippines needed to succeed in securing lasting stability in Mindanao. Prime Minister Mahathir provided a vital support in this aspect, with Malaysia becoming a facilitator in the peace process,” Duterte said, as he acknowledged the role of many stakeholders within the Philippines and “friends in the international community – especially Malaysia” in the Bangsamoro peace process.
Duterte admitted there are still “many challenges ahead” but positive transformation, he said, would not continue to happen had the wheels not been pushed and made to run back then, and Mahathir, the Prime Minister, was a key figure, describing his as a “friend, partner and brother.”
In February 2001, then newly-assumed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had requested Mahathir for Malaysia to serve as third party facilitator in the peace negotiations with the MILF, following the “all-out war” launched by her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in 2000 that left nearly a million residents displaced and led to the disbandment of the MILF peace panel in August that year. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)