Mindanao peace on track

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2021 - 12:00am

As the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), now retired Gen.Carlito Galvez Jr. earned the plaudits from President Rodrigo Duterte as the “hero of Marawi.” However, the honorific title came three years after the bloody Maute-led siege in the queen city of Lanao del Sur that broke out in May, 2017.

As then Western Mindanao Command chief, Galvez used the overwhelming forces of our military to restore peace and order in the strife-torn Marawi City. Galvez was subsequently promoted as AFP Chief of Staff in April, 2018 until he retired in December in the same year. President Duterte immediately appointed Galvez to head the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Fast forward. When the deadly 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) contagion broke out in the Philippines, President Duterte gave Galvez additional assignment as chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) two weeks after a Luzon-wide hard lockdown was imposed on March 16 last year. In obvious complete trust and confidence to the leadership of Galvez, President Duterte designated him as “vaccine czar” in November last year to prepare and implement the country’s anti-COVID vaccination program.

While deeply engaged in the anti-COVID responses of the government, Galvez is concurrently implementing the government’s peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). As the OPAPP chief, Galvez serves as the overseer of this Mindanao peace agreement. In fact, this week marks the second anniversary of the January 2019 ratification of Republic Act (RA) 1104, also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), amending for this purpose RA 9054, or the law that created the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). RA 1104 established the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in compliance with the provisions of the government’s peace pact with the MILF.

The BARMM became the expanded version of the ARMM. Voters in the now defunct ARMM, in Cotabato City and in 63 barangays in different towns in North Cotabato province in Region 12 voted to ratify the BOL in plebiscite. The BARMM is now composed of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.

BARMM’s chief minister, Ahod Ebrahim led last Monday the first ever hoisting of the Bangsamoro region’s banner below the Philippine flag to highlight the second founding anniversary of the BARMM at the regional government center in Cotabato City. Ebrahim is the MILF chairman whose two compacts with Malacañang, the 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB), and, subsequently, the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), resulted in the creation of the Bangsamoro region. Both the FAB and the CAB were forged by the previous administration of former president Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

In his remarks at the flag-raising rites, Ebrahim expressed his gratitude to President Duterte for honoring and carrying the government’s commitment to implement the FAB and CAB. It was the Duterte administration that succeeded in the passage into law of the BOL to implement the provisions of the FAB and the CAB. As part of the weeklong commemoration of the founding anniversary of the BARMM, Ebrahim and the rest of the BARMM will meet with President Duterte at Malacanang.

As this developed, the Commission on Audit (COA) has called out the BARMM to speed up the construction of P2.338-billion worth of permanent shelter project started in 2018 by ARMM, its predecessor. In the 2019 annual audit report of COA, contracts for the construction of 6,650 units of permanent shelters with water and light components were awarded to three contractors in 2018 under the ARMM’s Bangsamoro Regional Inclusive Development for Growth and Empowerment, or BRIDGE program.

The shelters, set to be constructed in five BARMM provinces, were supposed to benefit the internally displaced persons (IDS) who lost their homes and livelihood during the more than 35 years of secessionist conflicts in the region.

The audit body further recommended to BARMM leadership to create an inspectorate team together with the COA engineers to conduct regular inspection or evaluation of the projects “to determine their present existing conditions and status.”

The COA report was transmitted to the office of BARMM chief minister Ebrahim last month.

In a statement, the BARMM confirmed they are undergoing series of special audit review by COA for infrastructure projects undertaken in the five provinces of the defunct ARMM from 2016 to 2018. The BARMM noted the audit review was focused on the infrastructure projects undertaken by several district engineering offices in line with the concern of President Duterte on much reported anomalies at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Minister Eduard Uy Guerra of the BARMM’s Ministry of Public Works confirmed the on-going special audit on public works spending of ARMM from 2016 to 2018, three years before BARMM took over after the ARMM was dissolved in 2019 with the BOL took effect.

Meanwhile, BARMM Minister of Education Mohagher Iqbal cited normalizing the situation in Mindanao and the decommissioning of the 40,000 MILF members are currently continuing the major aspects of the normalization track of the FAB and the CAB. Iqbal, who is also the MILF Implementing Panel Chair, disclosed the interim Bangsamoro administration is also requesting “to extend the transition up to 2025 to ensure the success of the peace process.”

As the Bangsamoro interim government reaches its midterm, Iqbal led BARMM officials who tackled issues concerning the region through the 4th edition of the BangsaForum series entitled “Bangsamoro & Beyond” organized by The Asia Foundation and hosted by the British Embassy in Manila, in partnership with BARMM and the OPAPP.

Although busy with his multi-roles in the fight against the unseen enemy called COVID-19 contagion, we could only wonder how Galvez remains on track in the pursuit for lasting peace in Mindanao.

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