CAMP SIONCO, MAGUINDANAO (JULY 26, 2019) — In a bid to synchronize efforts of the Government of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) interim government in the implementation of the Normalization Track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization (ICCMN) held its second meeting yesterday in this municipality. 

 Launched in June of this year, the ICCMN is a multi-agency body tasked to consolidate and integrate the interventions of the national government in line with the Normalization Phase, particularly those focused on the decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants and their weapons, and the transformation of their camps into peaceful, resilient and progressive communities. 

 The meeting, the first time to be held in Mindanao, was participated in by BARMM cabinet ministers together with other high-ranking officials of the newly-established regional government and representatives of the security sector. The gathering is considered the first high-level dialogue between cabinet officials of the Philippine and BARMM governments.  

Historic day 

 “Today is a historic day because as we begin our second ICCMN meeting, we are holding it here in Cotabato and in front of the different Ministers of BARMM,” said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles, co-chairperson of the ICCMN.

“It was a commitment of the government under the administration of President Duterte to ensure that the Normalization process will be prioritized by our government. It shows the commitment for the successful implementation of Bangsamoro Organic Law and success of BARMM,” Nograles added.

According to Nograles, the ICCMN meeting “is a very important step and a milestone in the BARMM to showcase our commitment to work closely with officials of BARMM so that, hand in hand, we can usher peace and development in Mindanao, particularly in this part of Mindanao.”

“We want to show everybody that we are working very hard, that we are committed to this, we are committed to development in BARMM, we are committed to seeing all our promises, specially the promises of President Duterte come to fruition,” he said.

 In response, the BARMM cabinet ministers threw their full support behind the ICCMN, saying they will ensure that all the programs and projects to be implemented by their offices will “mirror” those to be implemented under the Normalization Track. 

ICCMN membership and functions

Under EO 79 or the Annex on Normalization, the ICCMN’s membership includes the departments of Defense, Interior, Justice, Social Welfare and Development, Agriculture, Education, Finance, Health, Labor, Budget, Trade, Information and Communications, as well as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, National Economic Development Authority, National Security Council, National Commission on Indigenous People, and the Commission on Higher Education.

 The body’s main functions are to coordinate and mobilize government agencies in the implementation of the Normalization program; provide policy advice, support, and assistance to the different modalities and mechanisms of Normalization; and supervise and monitor all socio-economic interventions under the Normalization program. 

Moreover, it has also been tasked to create a working group on vulnerable sectors which shall recommend interventions; submit periodic reports to the President on the implementation of EO 79; and perform other functions as directed by the President.

The ICCMN is made up of four clusters which are anchored on the four major components of the Normalization track: security aspect, socio-economic development program, confidence-building measures, and transitional justice and reconciliation.

Camps transformation 

Meanwhile, Ariel Hernandez, GPH Implementing Panel member and chair of the Joint Normalization Committee, said the key to the successful implementation of the Normalization Track is how to develop the six MILF-acknowledged camps into show windows of sustainable peace and genuine economic progress. 

“We need to help transform the camps as fast as possible,” Hernandez said, explaining that this could be achieved by first addressing the basic needs in communities such as water, health and education.

These were among the concerns raised during the GPH panel’s recent visit to the six MILF-government acknowledged camps. 

Other key issues that need to be resolved are those related to land distribution and the provision of housing units to the MILF beneficiaries. 

“We cannot talk about community development if the land will not be [eventually] distributed [to residents] in the camps,” he said.  

Hernandez also stressed the need to bring in business people who would be willing to invest in the development of these MILF communities, saying, “We need to invite well-intentioned business partners.”

But for these initiatives to move forward, he said there is a need for the BARMM government to take ownership of the process.

“While the ICCMN is nationally-initiated, this will not have meaning without the BARMM’s cabinet counterparts. This should be owned by the BARMM.” 

Normalization bodies 

The Normalization mechanisms include the Task Force for Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC), Joint Task Forces on Camps Transformation (JTFCT), Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and the International Decommissioning Body (IDB). 

The TFDCC will help MILF fighters return to mainstream society and become peaceful and productive individuals. The JTFCT, on the other hand, will take the lead in transforming the six government-acknowledged camps into peaceful, progressive and resilient communities.  

On the other hand, the TJRC, will implement mechanisms that will address human rights violations, legitimate grievances, historical injustices, and marginalization through land disposition committed against the Bangsamoro people.

For its part, the IDB will conduct the decommissioning process for the 40,000 MILF fighters across Mindanao.  The body will establish Assembly and Processing Areas (APAs) across Mindanao where the decommissioning of the combatants will be carried out. 

Under the decommissioning process, 30% of the MILF combatants and weapons are expected to be decommissioned this year.  At least 35% will undergo the same process next year, while the remaining fighters will be decommissioned by 2022 in time for the signing of the Exit Agreement under the CAB.

Bigger picture

For his part, Eduard Guerra, JNC co-chair and BARMM minister for finance and budget, echoed Hernandez’ recommendation to prioritize the distribution of lands among the MILF members, describing land-related issues as “among the major roots of conflict” in communities.

Guerra also agreed with the proposal to lure in big-ticket investors into the region who can help boost economic activity particularly in the MILF camps. “We need to adopt a corporate way of thinking,” he said, pointing out that individual-focused livelihood programs rarely succeed. 

This is where investors can come in and play a crucial role in the transformation of communities. “We really need investors. We need to look at the larger picture,” he said. 

IGR: A crucial link between Philippine and BARMM government

 As this developed, Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Carlito G. Galvez Jr. gave an overview of the soon-to-be established Intergovernmental Relations Body (IGR), which shall serve as the crucial link between the national and BARMM governments. 

“It shall coordinate and resolve issues on intergovernmental relations through regular consultation and continuing negotiations in a non-adversarial manner,” Galvez said. 

“It shall exhaust all means to resolve issues brought before it.  Unresolved issues shall be elevated to the President, through the Chief Minister,” he added. 

Under the IGR, Galvez said a Philippine Congress – Bangsamoro Parliament Forum will be created, as well as an Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board, Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation, Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board, Intergovernmental Energy Board and Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board. 

“The IGR is very crucial. For national projects, there is a need for interagency coordination,” he said, adding, “With this kind of inter-government relations, gray areas will be addressed specifically in project implementation.”

 According to Galvez, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process will soon be submitting its recommendations to President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the IGR’s proposed membership coming from the national and BARMM governments. 

“If the Bangsamoro is peaceful, the whole Philippine will become peaceful. If Mindanao will grow, the whole Philippines will grow,” he said. ###