PASIG CITY — Amid the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of the political and normalization tracks of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) continues to move forward and gain momentum.

This was the assurance given by members of the Government of the Philippines Peace Implementing Panel (GPH-PIP) on the Bangsamoro Peace Accord during the ‘Kapihan at Kapayapaan: Bangsamoro Peace Process in the Time of a Pandemic’ virtual presser on Thursday, July 1.

“Ang pandemic ay medyo nalimita ang mga ibang activities natin. It causes delay but of course tuloy tuloy pa rin kami sa aming ginagawa,” said Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Undersecretary David B. Diciano, chair of the GPH PIP on Bangsamoro peace accord.

Diciano emphasized that despite the logistical and technical limitations faced by the agency since the health crisis began, a majority of its interventions under the various components of the Normalization Programs have proceeded although at a slower pace.

These include the completion of the second phase of decommissioning of MILF members and weapons, the deployment and activation of Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPSTs) and JPST stations, and the implementation of various socioeconomic programs for the former combatants and their families .

“Marami na rin tayong na simulan last year gaya ng disbandment of PAGs (private armed groups) pati na rin ang usapin sa dispute resolution,” Diciano said.

Other major accomplishments include the completion of the Camps Transformation Plan (CTP) for MILF communities, the approval of the National Amnesty Program for former rebels, the issuance of Presidential Proclamations granting amnesty to members of rebel groups, and the approval of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation (TJR) Roadmap.

3rd phase of decommissioning of MILF combatants, weapons eyed to start August

In December 2020, the MILF officially turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) the list of 14,000 MILF combatants to be decommissioned under Phase 3.

According to Diciano, the GPH and the MILF peace panels are finding ways to jumpstart key normalization programs in the region.

“We will continue on. For 2021, we have discussed this with our MILF counterparts na ang phase 3 decommissioning ay mag-uumpisa this August. Then ang ibang socioeconomic programs ay tuloy tuloy na rin na isabay doon sa mga gagawin naming mga decommissioning,” he said.

Diciano pointed out that the delays encountered in the implementation of programs under the normalization track were due to budget realignments that had to be done to cover the national government’s COVID-19 interventions across the country.

“For other programs like Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (DPAGs), dispute resolution, small arms and light weapons (SALW) at Amnesty, tuloy tuloy na po ito,” he added.

OPAPP Director Farrah Grace V. Naparan, member of the GPH PIP, emphasized that OPAPP partners with national line agencies, local government units (LGUs), and other institutions in order to bring meaningful social development and positive change to Bangsamoro communities.

“Karamihan po nyan (socieoconomic programs) ay pondo ng OPAPP na na-transfer po sa mga agencies natin given their mandates and technical expertise,” Naparan noted.

“But aside from that, we are not only implementing the programs with the agencies, we are also partnering with the LGUs. Kanina nabanggit na we also have other programs under the security components wherein we partner with LGUs,” she added.

Naparan said that initiatives such as the program on SALW are being carried out in partnership with the provincial LGUs, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“We also have programs wherein we partner with our LGUs, primarily dito naman po sa dispute resolution. Ganun po ka extensive ang klaseng programang ini-implement natin. We are funding the appropriate implementing partners tailored-fit po doon sa needs sa ground,” she said.

Support to BTA extension

The government’s peace agency has reaffirmed its support for the call to extend the interim Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (BARMM) term of office until 2025.

This is according to OPAPP Chief of Staff and Spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Atty. Wilben Mayor, who is also a member of the GPH PIP and focal for TJR.

“Sa part ng OPAPP, there have been several meetings in the congress and senate. We have been supportive doon sa proposal and resolution of the extension. But again, let us emphasize that the extension needs an amendment of the law and therefore it takes congress to enact a law so that such extension will push through,” Mayor explained.

“Nevertheless, ang position ng aming opisina ay suportahan ang extension na ‘yan sa kadahilan ang marami pong mga program na dahil sa ngayong pangyayari ang pandemic marami pong medyo na delay ng kaunti. Marami na pong pagpupulong na nangyayari sa congreso at kami ay palaging andoon para suportahan ang ating mga kasamahan para sa proposed extension,” he added.

Mayor stressed that the national government and the MILF have always worked towards the same goal, and that is, achieving long lasting and enduring peace in the Bangsamoro.

“Sa ngayong panahon, ang direction ng lahat mula sa panig ng pamahalaan at gobyerno ng BARMM ay papunta tayo sa kapayapaan. Hindi po magiging rason na dahil po hindi magkaroon ng election ay babalik po uli doon sa tinatawag nating conflict between the government forces and the MILF,” he said.

“Sa liderato po ng BARMM ngayon na pinamumunuan ni Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, sa tingin po namin at sila na rin po ang nag sabi, tinatalikuran na nila ang karahasan dahil tayo po ang direksyon na nating lahat ay patungo po sa kapayapaan,” Mayor explained.

He is confident that the gains of the Bangsamoro peace process will be sustained by the succeeding administrations.

“Ang CAB, kahit na anong administrasyon, ay irespeto po ‘yun at at igalang dahil ito ay pinirmahan hindi lamang ng isang Presidente bilang isang Presidente, kundi bilang isang pamahalaan. Ang Presidente doon ay representative lang ng pamahalaan,” Mayor said.

Diciano pointed out that mechanisms have been put in place such as the Intergovernmental Relations Body (IGRB) that coordinates and resolves issues between the National Government and the Bangsamoro Government through regular consultations and continuing negotiations in a non-adversarial manner.

“With greater collaboration, a sense of accountability and ownership among parties to sustain the peace dividends, the Duterte Administration, through the OPAPP, remains committed to pursuing all signed peace agreements in the Bangsamoro,” he said.

In a separate statement, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back the timetables of the BARMM and national governments in the implementation of the normalization track.

However, Galvez emphasized that this has not dampened the resolve of both parties to find creative ways of pushing forward the Bangsamoro peace process and uplift the lives of the Moro people.

“One of the major lessons we learned from this pandemic is you have to be resourceful and find alternative ways of doing things. If Plan A doesn’t work, you have to have a Plan B, a Plan C. This is how we managed to get things done despite the difficulties we have faced,” he said.

“Rest assured that the Duterte Administration remains fully committed to fulfilling its commitments under all signed peace agreements. This is the promise President Duterte made during the start of his term and we will make sure that it will be realized,” Galvez concluded. ###