YEARENDER: With term ending, Noy’s peace legacy in peril

Jose Rodel Clapano - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino may be ending his term with the problem on peace and order in Mindanao and up north still unresolved.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) operates in Mindanao while the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) are all over the country.

While the government peace panel led by its chairperson, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, and presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles remain hopeful that peace will be achieved in Mindanao through the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate have other priorities.

Congress earlier set Dec. 16 for the passage of the BBL but failed to do so.

The BBL is the iteration of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and the MILF and the enabling law that would replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Deles said that while there is growing concern on the Bangsamoro peace process with the delay in the BBL’s passage, the government is committed to continue its efforts to secure its enactment as soon as possible.

She said the government and other concerned parties in the Bangsamoro peace process “cannot afford to go back to square one.”

“We remain firm in our goal to see the BBL passed into law within the term of President Aquino. We are not giving up,” Deles earlier said.


Deles admitted that time is not on government’s side.

“We could say that the whole legislation is really dead. So, the agency continues to engage both houses of Congress in deliberating and finishing the interpellation of the proposed substitute bills,” Deles said.

“We all know the dynamics of Congress. We are still positive that we can pass this law before the end of this administration. This is the farthest we have ever gone in the peace process,” she said.

The House and the Senate failed to fulfill their commitment to pass the BBL before the chambers went on recess in October prior to the filing of certificates of candidacy for the elections this May.

The failure to pass the BBL was attributed to lack of quorum in Congress as lawmakers have prioritized their campaign over their functions as legislators, and the intense questioning by senators on the provisions of the bill during deliberations.

The House of Representatives closed the period of interpellation last Dec. 16 on the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) and set its period of amendments on the resumption of session this January.

Poverty, government neglect

Cagayan de Oro second district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chairs the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, stressed that the proposed Bangsamoro law aims to end the armed conflicts in Mindanao by equipping the new autonomous region with mechanisms for development and an inclusive form of government to address the main cause of Moro insurgency.

“For the first time in the Bangsamoro, we have exclusive powers and we are granting more powers to the autonomous region. The Bangsamoro would have fiscal autonomy to manage its resources,” Rodriguez told Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting in his interpellation on Dec. 15.

“If we have enacted a law for inclusive growth in the Bangsamoro, this would pave the way for the road of lasting peace in Mindanao. The underdevelopment of the Bangsamoro is not caused by war. Poverty and the neglect of the government are the real causes,” Rodriguez said.

He added that the BLBAR proposes a system in which the Bangsamoro people can chart their own destiny.

“The Bangsamoro people themselves will determine what they need. It is when they can determine themselves that there can be success. This is how we can solve the problem in the Bangsamoro,” Rodriguez said.

The lawmaker said the creation of an autonomous region with genuine autonomy is a duty that Congress has to fulfill as mandated by the Constitution.

Rodriguez said the committee made sure that the BLBAR is within the law of the land.

“We respect the other party in the peace talks because they are representing the Muslims in Mindanao. That is why we have the nomenclature Bangsamoro. We have changed the BBL to BLBAR and there is a clear difference,” he said. “This is not to create a notion that we are creating a nation within a nation. It is a region in the country and not a county within a country.”

Delaying factors

In a meeting with the country’s leading business groups last September, Deles stressed the importance of having a candid dialogue on the status of the BBL with concerned sectors.

“We cannot gloss over the fact that the BBL, and the Bangsamoro peace process, had been hit very badly in the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy,” she said, referring to the death of 44 Special Action Force men during an operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the MILF on Jan. 25, 2015.

The operation was intended to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir and other Malaysian terrorists and members of the BIFF. Eighteen rebels and five civilians also died in the encounter.

In addition to the serious delay caused by the Mamasapano incident on the congressional deliberations on the BBL, Deles said the upcoming elections also pose a threat to the passage of the bill.

“2016 partisan interests and agenda are already out there fighting tooth and nail to claim center stage, which does not brook well for a law that is best deliberated with an eye not so much besotted with present-day, transient, parochial interests but rather training its gaze further to consider the lessons of history and the omens of prophecy,” Deles said.

Despite the complications, Deles said the government remains firm in its resolve that the Bangsamoro peace process and the accompanying legislative track would bear fruit for Filipinos and the entire country as it would give a solid foundation for the just and lasting peace everyone wants to see happen in Mindanao and the rest of the nation.

MILF committed

In his Eid’l Adha message, MILF chair Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim vowed that his group will remain committed to the peace process.

Murad also expressed the group’s belief that Congress would eventually pass a BBL that reflects the spirit and intentions of the CAB.

“With the unwavering commitment of the President and his allies in the administration, coupled with the strong support of the international community, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, including the peace loving people of the country and the world and most of all our complete trust in the oneness and justness of Allah, we remain optimistic,” Murad said.

“The gains of the peace process are much wider and more comprehensive. What is of prime importance is the preservation and sustenance of the achievements of the struggle and the Bangsamoro people in the peace process,” he said.

Deles echoed Murad’s commitment and said it was very unlikely that the MILF would go back to war despite delays in the passage of the BBL.

“The government and the MILF have signed agreements and the recent decommissioning showed their sincerity in the peace talks,” Deles said.

Misleading report

Meanwhile, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said recently that the report of the Commission on Audit (COA) about its alleged P691 million unliquidated Disbursement Acceleration Program funds is “misleading.”

“If you look at the report, it has a lot of observations. But what is important is the recommendation of the resident auditor at the end of the report which is to secure the approval of the Department of Budget and Management for the vehicle rentals. This we have complied with and received DBM approval on Sept. 15, 2015,” OPAPP executive director Luisito Montalbo said.

Montalbo said that COA did not disallow the rentals as it even confirmed the OPAPP’s compliance with an executive order that required “ad hoc agencies with specific tasks to perform” to merely rent, and not outright purchase vehicles for their operational use.

“The report was intended to strengthen and tighten procedures,” Montalbo said.

He said that OPAPP operates on a national scale but has no regional offices nor facilities to address operational needs, as necessitated by the substantive developments on the peace tables and programs on the ground.


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