President Duterte holds the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law during a turnover ceremony at Malacañang on July 17. File photo

'Passage of delayed Bangsamoro law key to fighting ISIS influence'
( - December 9, 2017 - 8:15am

MANILA, Philippines — Implementation of a delayed peace deal that would grant more autonomy to predominantly Muslim parts of Mindanao is crucial in curbing extremism, Moro Islamic Liberation Front vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said that the government must correct the historical injustices done to the Moros in Mindanao, whom he has stressed predate the colonization of the Philippines by Spain.

"We are pursuing talks with the [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] and [Moro Nationalist Liberation Front]. Ni-recognize na natin ‘yan dalawa. We will pursue it to the logical end. Alam mo kasi, pag hindi natin ito i-recognize ang problema ng Mindanao, this country will never enjoy peace for all time," Duterte said in a speech on Friday.

The government has signed separate peace agreements with the two rebel groups and has been maintaining dialogues on the implementation of those deals.

"Pero ayusin natin ‘to kasi pag hindi, if we fail and there’s an open rebellion in Mindanao, sa gusto man nila o hindi pati ‘yung mga Moro, papasok ang [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] pati extremists," he said. 

Last August, Malacañang transmitted to Congress the final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which aims to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a region with more autonomy but will remain part of the Republic of the Philippines.

The BBL is the product of a rocky 20-year peace process between the state and the MILF in a bid to end years of rebellion in the restive southern region.

Radicalization in the region

In his speech at a forum hosted by Japan International Cooperation Agency last Monday, Jaafar said the trust of some Bangsamoro groups in the peace process had “faded away."

He said these groups had been radicalized as “proposed solutions” on the historical injustices done to the Moros remain unimplemented.

Some “frustrated” groups, according to Jaafar, have sought support “even to the point of disregarding the sources,” including those who received help from ISIS in order to develop their fire-fight capability.

“These groups started to become radicalized and developed the mindset that the only solution to the resolve the Bangsamoro issue is through the use of force,” Jaafar said.

“After losing faith because of the way how the government handle the peace process, they shifted strategy [which] is subject of debate among Muslim learnered (sic) whether this conform[s] to Islam,” he added.

Congress asked to fast-track passage

Duterte has sought to resuscitate the stalled BBL after the bill, which was championed by his predecessor, was effectively derailed by an anti-terror raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015 that claimed the lives of around 60 Filipinos, including 44 police commandos. 

Although it has not been certified as an urgent measure, Duterte had asked both the Senate and the House of Representatives to fast-track its passage.

READ: Duterte asks for MILF's patience on BBL passage | 1 M Muslims to prod Duterte on Bangsamoro law

The bill’s submission to Congress came at a difficult time for the Philippines after the principal Islamic city of Marawi was stormed by heavily-armed homegrown militants who pledged allegiance to the dreaded ISIS.

The 148-day siege, which ended last October, prompted Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law, which was retained until yearend to give Duterte more time to stabilize the strife-torn region where ISIS was gaining influence.

Significant help in defeating ISIS-backed fighters came from the government's former enemy: the MILF.

However, experts had warned that the end of the five-month Marawi occupation did not finish the security crisis in Mindanao as terrorists could radicalize those who were displaced by the fighting.

According to Jaafar, the enactment of the BBL would address the frustration of some Moros, hence “the fertile ground for radicalism and extremism will be curbed and eliminated.”

He also reiterated that the MILF does not intend to “rule” the proposed Bangsamoro government and monopolize powers, saying the MILF would have an “inclusive” governance over it.

“The enabling environment for peace and economic development will be in place, thus, creating more investment, business and job opportunities and encouraging more development assistance to come in,” he said.

“These are just some of the benefits. Thus, radicalism and extremism will render irrelevant, and hopefully, it will be a thing of the past,” he added.

Citing his country’s contribution to the peace process in Mindanao, Takehiro Kano, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Japanese Embassy, said Japan is “paying close attention” to how lawmakers act on the BBL.

“All of us here recognize that the Mindanao peace process is now at a critical juncture,” said Kano, who also took part in the same Monday forum.

“I think that all of us here wish to have better understanding of various challenges facing the Mindanao peace process,” he added.

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