The long road to peace and development

By Ignacio R. Bunye

Ignacio R. Bunye Ignacio R. Bunye

Finally, President Rody signed into law last Thurs­day the Bangsamoro Organ­ic Law (BOL) which seeks to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao through the establishment of a new framework for the island’s governance and development.

The original measure was first proposed in the 16th Congress, during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III, but got derailed by the Ma­masapano Massacre in 2015. Follow­ing the bloody encounter, the public rejected the proposed law, forcing Congress to momentarily shelve it.

But thanks to the persistence of the current administration, the issue was resurrected in the 17th Congress and the rest, as they say, is history.

President Rody originally intend­ed to sign the law – in dramatic fash­ion – during his third SONA but, then again, another conflict intervened.

An intramural within the House “super majority” – which resulted in the ousting of Pantaleon Alvarez and the installation of Gloria Maca­pagal Arroyo as new House speaker – provided the last-minute hitch. The squabble prevented the ratification of the bill by the House in time for the SONA.

To her credit, Arroyo ensured its ratification as soon as the political dust in the House settled down.

Indeed, Arroyo has as much stake that the proposal be signed into law immediately. It was during her term as president that peace talks between the government and the MILF actu­ally started.

Her predecessor, former Presi­dent Joseph Estrada would have none of the peace talk “nonsense.” Estrada wanted to end the decades-old conflict in the field. At one time, photographs portrayed Estrada, in camouflage outfit, as personally supervising an assault on the former MILF strong­hold in Camp Abubakar.

For most of Arroyo’s term, peace talks – 30-plus in all – were held be­tween the government and represen­tatives of the MILF. Kuala Lumpur provided the neutral venue for the talks.

While the Kuala Lumpur talks were ongoing, an International Moni­toring Team (IMT) was headquar­tered in Cotabato City, to see to it that peace prevailed on the ground. The IMT consisted of 60 representatives from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Norway, and the EU.

The KL talks carried over to President Aquino and culminated in 2012 when PNoy and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. This was the basis of the bill filed – but got aborted – in the 16th Congress.

In 2014, under President Aquino, a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed.

As in the predecessor Frame­work Agreement, the MILF agreed to turn over their firearms to a third party and to decommission its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

In exchange, the government would allow the creation of the autonomous political entity named Bangsamoro, replacing the Autono­mous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The newly signed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) covers Bangsam­oro identity, Bangsamoro territory, Bangsamoro government, Bangsam­oro justice system, Bangsamoro eco­nomic and financial framework and provisions relating transition to the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

But the biggest sweetener is the massive funding for the new political entity consisting of an annual block grant of roughly P78 billion, as well as possible additional development subsidies.

Legislators felt it was a win-win amount considering that the govern­ment would have incurred the same – in actual and opportunity costs – in case of a continued armed conflict.

This should make every body happy but Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza cau­tions: The BOL is not a magic bullet which will automatically end-all the armed conflict in Mindanao.

The MILF, it will be recalled, broke away from the MNLF with whom the government, under then President Fidel V. Ramos, had ear­lier made peace. Already, there is a breakaway group from the MILF. Not to mention the extremist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute.

But Dureza, who has been in­volved in the peace process under three presidents, said the govern­ment under President Rody is deter­mined to walk through the long road “one peace at a time.”

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