Peace group to Duterte: Do the right thing for Mindanao

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 28 July) – Peace advocacy group Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday “to continue shepherding the Bangsamoro peace process” even if he failed to ask Congress to extend the transition period during his final State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Mary Ann Arnado, MPC secretary general, said they will not get tired from asking Duterte “to do the right thing for Mindanao.”

“As a son of Mindanao, as one who takes pride in saying he has Moro roots, we know that President Duterte knows by heart that Mindanao cannot fully flex the wings of development and prosperity without peace,” she said in a statement.

Arnado noted that Duterte made history when he inaugurated the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) as the interim government tasked to implement crucial institutional reforms in war-torn Moro land.

Supporters for the extension of the Bangsamoro transition until 2025 stage a rally on 10 March 2021 outside the Senate in Pasay City where the Committee on Local Government was holding its first hearing on Senate Bills 2019 and 2025, which propose the rescheduling of the first election of the 80 members of the Bangsamoro Parliament from May 2022 to May 2025. Photo courtesy of Mindanao Peoples Caucus

The BTA , whose mandate will end on June 30, 2022 if the election in the region will push through, earlier passed a resolution seeking to extend the transition period for three more years, citing the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to governance in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) both stressed the need to extend the transition period in the BARMM to implement the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

The CAB is the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF signed in 2014 during the Aquino administration after 17 years of negotiations. The key component of the peace agreement was the creation of the Bangsamoro region, which was established in 2019 following the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, popularly called the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Duterte signed the BOL three years ago. The CAB also provides for the decommissioning of MILF fighters and their weapons and the transformation of their camps into productive economic zones.

Dozens of civil society organization within and outside the Bangsamoro region supported the moves for the extension of the transition phase. In March, at least one million signatures were submitted to Malacañang petitioning Duterte to certify as urgent the bills extending the transition period in the Bangsamoro.

“We beg him (Duterte) to continue shepherding the Bangsamoro peace process until the necessary institutional reforms are completed and the 40,000 combatants are decommissioned and have fully returned to normal productive lives,” Arnado said.

At least 12,000 or 30 percent of the MILF combatants have been decommissioned so far since 2019. Of the promised P1-million package of socio-economic assistance each, the deactivated fighters have been given P100,000 each.

During his SONA, Duterte said: “The bloodshed caused by the separatist movement in Mindanao is all about correcting the historical injustice suffered by the Moro people. With the help of Congress, we were able to pass the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, finally fulfilling a promise that was decades in the making.”

However, Duterte did not mention anything about the clamor to extend the transition period in the BARMM.

The President ran short of pointing to Congress the right direction to take for the transition period to fully accomplish and deliver the commitments mutually agreed upon by the government and the MILF in the CAB, the MPC lamented.

“But we are confident that both houses of Congress know the right direction is extension,” the group added.

Arnado noted that with 65 days remaining prior to the filing of candidacy on October 1, 2021, Congress will navigate on a very narrow timeline within which to pass the extension bill.

“We urge our esteemed Senators and Representatives to utilize and exhaust every window of opportunity within the month of August to pass this important legislation,” she said.

During the July 23 Bangsamoro Governance Summit, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri had given his assurance that the Senate is on the “final stages of passing the bill postponing the BARMM elections, so that you will be able to deliver your promises to our people of this elusive peace and prosperity [In Shaa Allah]. Within a month’s time, we will get it done.”

“We believe the House of Representatives will be as decisive,” Arnado said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)