PASIG CITY (26 NOVEMBER 2020)— The proposed extension of the Bangsamoro transition period for three more years is necessary to complete the implementation of the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), according to Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr.

“If we want this transition to be successful, we have to give our brothers (in the Bangsamoro) ample time to lay down the foundation, and realistically we cannot achieve this in three years,” Galvez told lawmakers during a House Special Committee hearing on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Thursday.

The call for the extension of another three years stemmed when the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim government running the autonomous region, passed a resolution earlier calling for their extension until 2025 to fully complete the transition process.

Under Republic Act no. 11054, or the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) shall undergo a three-year transition period, which began in 2019 and end on 2022.

However, as the country grapple with the COVID-19, the passage of the key codes of the newly-established BARMM has been delayed. The creation of the BARMM is an offshoot following the passage of the BOL to operationalize the CAB signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014. In parallel, the Normalization Track, a key component of the peace agreement, also suffered some delays in the implementation where it is expected to decommission thousands of MILF combatants.

Galvez, who is also the country’s vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19, cited many challenges the government continues to face in the implementation of the CAB due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The movement of peace workers as well as international peace partners have been restricted. Moreover, funds have been reduced since some of the resources were utilized for emergency purposes,” Galvez said.

“Our total package amounting to PhP 1.4 billion was not released for our 14,000 combatants scheduled to be decommissioned this year, due to our difficulty with the implementation of this program,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier backed the proposed extension of the BARMM’s transition period during a meeting with top officials of the BARMM in Davao early this week.

“President Durterte also believes that three years is too short and he agrees for the possible extension. So ladies and gentlemen, that is the position of the OPAPP,” Galvez, who attended the meeting with the President, added.

According to the peace adviser, the BTA was just established last year and did not have full access yet to funds allocated by the national government to the BARMM.

Moreover, the BTA still needs to craft its various codes such as the Election Code before Parliamentary elections can be held in the region.

There are seven codes that are needed to be passed to complete the governance structure of the BARMM. These are: Bangsamoro Administrative Code, Bangsamoro Revenue Code, Bangsamoro Electoral Code, Bangsamoro Local Government Code, Bangsamoro Education Code, Bangsamoro Civil Service Code, and Bangsamoro law for indigenous peoples.

So far, the BTA was only able to enact the Administrative Code and the Bangsamoro Development Plan.

Gains must be sustained

In his report to Congress, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Undersecretary David B. Diciano, chair of the Government Peace Implementing Panel, said that 12,145, or 30.37% out of the 40,000 MILF combatants have already been decommissioned.

Under the original plan, 30% or 14,000 combatants are set to be decommissioned under Phase 3 by 2020. The remaining 35% are expected to be decommissioned under Phase 4, which is expected to be completed by 2022, or before the signing of the Exit Agreement.

However, Diciano said the timeline for the implementation of activities under the Normalization Program has been drastically disrupted by the pandemic, which limited the movement of people.

“As we have been close partners in the road towards the passage of the BOL – a historic piece of legislation recognizing the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro, we earnestly hope that with Congress, we may tread the same path towards the completion of the CAB aimed at instituting just and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro,” Diciano said.

Maguindanao Second District Representative Esmael Mangudadatu, chair of the House Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, took note of the aforementioned challenges in the CAB’s implementation, and acknowledged the gains achieved in the Bangsamoro peace process so far.

“While every stakeholder in the BARMM is eager to do his task, uncontrollable factors brought about by the (health) crisis have prevented the regional government from realizing its immediate goals, such as the full transition of the BTA, and passage of each legislative agenda,” Mangudadatu said.

“The BARMM is also beset with funding releases which prevent the full implementation of the BOL. Nevertheless, we are still grateful that the implementation of CAB is moving forward,” he added.

Galvez called on lawmakers to consider  the proposed extension in order to sustain the gains of the GPH-MILF peace process.

“I would like to make an appeal to the senses of those who are opposing this extension.  With the current situation that we have right now, the country will have the vaccine most likely on May, June or July of 2021, it is expected that the Normalization process will be delayed or worse stalled,” he said.

“Even If you put the best people in the BARMM, no one can achieve a meaningful transition in a speed of the few remaining months. Normalization process requires more time and resources to fulfill the both parties’ promises and obligations to the Bangsamoro People. With the social dislocation and uncertainties brought by the pandemic, an extension is morally justified,” Galvez said. ###