AT long last, the law creating the new autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao was approved by Congress on the second day of the third regular session of the 17th Congress last Tuesday.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which had been created by the post-martial law Constitution of l987. The ARMM, however, was deemed insufficient to meet the needs and demands of the Bangsamoro people. And so the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) carried on its fight for greater automomy.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law contains provisions for which the MILF had been fighting all these years, provisions that give the Bangsamoro people so much more autonomy and opportunities for growth and development, such that Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel, was moved to tears when the final text of the law was finally approved last Thursday. “It took us more than 20 years to realize our dreams,” he said.
A Bangsamoro Basic Law had been drawn up during the previous administration of President Benigno Aquino III but to the end of his administration, it failed to pass the 16th Congress, as opposing congressmen consistently boycotted the final sessions to create a quorum problem. It took President Duterte, upon his election in 2016, to carry on the mission, declaring that it was needed to correct a historic injustice to the Moro people.
For those who fear that the new Bangsamoro region may seek at some future date to separate from the Republic of the Philippines, the law creating the BARMM addressed this issue by removing from the original text the phrase “right to self-determination.” The Bangsamoro autonomous region is an integral part of the Philippines and its people owe their allegiance to the Philippine government and its constitutional bodies.
The establishment of the new autonomous region should help bring about peace and order in many parts of Mindanao now plagued by the operations of such groups as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf, which are basically composed of Moro fighters challenging the national government authority.
A bigger problem is posed by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its New People’s Army (NPA) which used to operate mostly in the remote mountain regions of Luzon but have since moved to the more remote regions of Mindanao. Talks with the CPP-NPA remain uncertain, with the two sides unable even to agree on a common ceasefire. But in talks in the two years of the Duterte administration, they have been able to agree on many constitutional and political as well as social and economic reforms. We continue to hope that these talks will soon resume and finally put an end to the decades-old CPP-NPA rebellion in the country.
Today, it is enough that we have finally reached agreement on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. It is a giant step forward for the Bangsamoro people but also for the entire Filipino nation.