DAVAO CITY – The passage of a new Bangsamoro enabling law will move alongside efforts toward implementing a federal form of government to immediately address the historical injustices and end decades of armed conflict in Mindanao, said Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Jesus Dureza in a gathering of media practitioners in the city late last week.

“The real roadmap is, as much as possible, we would entrench already the Bangsamoro law and make it operational because federalism is matagal na proseso (a long process),” Dureza commented.

“Kung maging constitutional compliant [ang susunod na Bangsamoro law] and the Congress natin will pass it, maybe ma-test pilot na natin ang Bangsamoro sa federalism (If the next Bangsamoro law would be constitutional compliant and our Congress will pass it, maybe the Bangsamoro can test pilot our move to federalism).”

The peace secretary added that the Bangsamoro enabling law will be drafted by the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to ensure inclusivity in the proposed legislation and the full implementation of signed peace accords.

“Inclusivity is very important. Inclusivity means, when we come out eventually with a new law that will replace the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), we hope that it should come from the Final Peace Agreement that was signed in 1996 with the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and it will also draw provisions of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front),” Dureza maintained.

“There are provisions in the ARMM law that can be also important [in the proposed Bangsamoro law] and also pertinent provisions of the IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act) [that can be inserted] so that eventually yung ipapasa ng Kongreso, kung may ipapasa man, to entrench and establish a new government unit for the Bangsamoro, kalahok ang lahat at hindi MILF, MNLF lang (There are provisions in the ARMM law that can be also important in the proposed Bangsamoro law and also pertinent provisions of the IPRA that can be inserted so that eventually the law, that the Congress would pass which would entrench and establish a new government unit for the Bangsamoro, enjoins everyone not only the MILF and the MNLF),” he continued.

After more than 17 years of negotiations, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF reached a milestone in the peace process with the signing of the CAB last 27 March 2014. However, its full implementation was stalled when the 16th Congress adjourned last February without acting on the agreement’s proposed enabling law.

Last Monday, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed the executive order establishing an expanded BTC that will be tasked to draft a new enabling law for the implementation of all signed Bangsamoro agreements. The said commission will be composed of 21 members wherein eleven members, including the Chair, will come from the MILF and 10 will be nominated by the government.

The BTC was first convened in 2014 through Executive Order No. 120 which gives the body the mandate: to draft the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law with provisions consistent with the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro; and to recommend to Congress or the people proposed amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution whenever necessary.

In an event last October, MILF Chairman Al-Jah Murad Ebrahim welcomed the idea of making the proposed Bangsamoro government a pilot case study in the nationwide shift towards a federal system of government.

“If one reads carefully through the pages of the CAB, then, one cannot but reach the conclusion that powers between Central and the Bangsamoro Governments are meaningfully shared and delegated properly – a future which is very prominent, it already established federal governments,” Murad said in a speech read by his representative.

“The implementation of the CAB, particularly its political track which means the passage of the restored Bangsamoro Basic Law, must precede the shift from unitary to federal form of government,” he added.

Public plays crucial role to peace process

The peace adviser also underscored the importance of public participation for the peace process to be successful. “We are going to make them [the people on the ground] part of [the peace process]. We are actually engag[ing] the whole country,” he said.

“We keep the public informed along the way so that they will understand what this is all about and then they will accept it and they will realize that it will be for the common good. Dapat incremental din ang engagement with the public so they know how it all evolved and how the two parties came with the agreement (Our engagement with the public should also be incremental so they would know how it all evolved and how the two parties came with the agreement),” Dureza emphasized.

Dureza also pointed out that addressing the Bangsamoro issue immediately will help in curbing extremist threats in the country. “One important effect of addressing the Bangsamoro issue [is that] we are also concerned on the possible coming in of the IS and other terrorist groups. Ang MILF ay tutulong na sa gobyerno [sa problemang ito] (The MILF can help the government in this problem), that would be a big help. Hopefully, that can be an effect,” he said.