MILF Optimistic on ‘Fruitful Engagements’ with Marcos Administration

“Depending on one’s perspective, I would like to consider this development as a fresh opportunity for fruitful engagements in the context of the Bangsamoro Peace Process.”

— MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher M. Iqbal

BARMM News

By EDD K. USMAN | @edd1819@bluestar0910SDN — Science and Digital News

President Rodrigo R. Duterte. (Malacañan photograph) 

(SDN) From President Rodrigo R. Duterte to his successor President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. the implementation of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) will change hands.

President-Elect Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ R. Marcos, Jr. (Credit: Business Mirror)

Duterte, the first-ever son of Mindanao to become Philippine Chief Executive, will exit on noontime, right about 11:59 a.m., June 30, 2022, and the Marcos administration steps in to the Malacañan Palace.

In the context of the Mindanao peace process, particularly between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), hopes coupled with uncertainties will be the order of the day like in the past when administrations changed hands.

Each administration as is normal has a mind of its own, so peacemakers can only hope the peace process occupies a space in its priorities. After all, peace should be everybody’s business. Every day, every tomorrow, and the days going forward. And years and years and years!

What to expect from the new administration, certainly hopes and uncertainties would be a mix in the anticipation of what will unfold come the 12 noon of June 2022, and until noontime on June 30, 2028, barring any unforeseen events.

For the Bangsamoro people — they whose grandparents, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters have been in the line of fire, literally, for a number of decades littered with bodies and spilled blood, it is safe to say they hope the implementation of CAB will continue, which the Duterte administration has done and is doing unfailingly and faithfully to the last day of its term. Would the Marcos administration continue the Duterte administration’s legacy of implementing the CAB?

After all, the GPH-MILF peace process had already produced its final peace accord, the CAB, and Congress — the Senate and the House of Representatives — enacted the accord’s implementing mechanism, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which became the founding Charter of the new political entity (NPE) dubbed the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in 2018.

BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag ‘Al-Hajj Murad’ Ebrahim. (Source: BARMM-BIO)

With this as back draft, the MILF Peace Implementing Panel chaired by Mohagher M. Iqbal has voiced “optimism” on a “fruitful engagements” with the new administration.

Better to hear the words from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

“Depending on one’s perspective, I would like to consider this development as a fresh opportunity for fruitful engagements in the context of the Bangsamoro Peace Process. I remember having the same kind of optimism when the Peace Panels met in 2016, before the Duterte administration stepped in,” Iqbal, now the head of the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education (MBHTE) of the BARMM, remarks. He was referring to the succession from President Benigno S. Aquino III to Duterte. Philippine Presidents have six year-term without re-election.

The new Bangsamoro region is comprised of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, and the cities of Cotabato, Lamitan, and Marawi, as well as the Special Geographic Area (SGA) made up of 63 barangays or villages in North Cotabato that voted to be under BARMM jurisdiction during the plebiscite in 2019. North Cotabato itself is not part of the region.

GPH and MILF Peace Implementing Panels Chair Undersecretary David Diciano (left) and BARMM Minister Mohagher M. Iqbal. (Photo supplied)

Iqbal admitted though that the BARMM leadership did not have yet the opportunity to speak with the incoming President, “but his campaign promise of Unity is reassuring. Perhaps, similar to what happened in the term of President Duterte, there will be early recognition of the need for faithful implementation of the signed peace agreements.”

BARMM was created through the BOL, abolishing and replacing what the then President Benigno S. Aquino III described the “failed experiment” called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

GPH, MILF Peace Implementing Panels have come a long way

Iqbal has worn and continues to wear many hats in the peace process, including as chair of the MILF Committee on Information, chair of the MILF peace panel, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), chair of the MILF Peace Implementing Panel, etc.

On June 3, the GPH and MILF Peace Implementing Panels assembled for their 32nd Meeting at the Rizal Park Hotel, Manila, Metro Manila. It marked their final and last meeting under the Duterte administration.

Iqbal spoke at the meeting held on a sizzling hot sunny day, with the location overlooking Instagram-able Manila Bay with ships anchored not too far from shore, their colors glistening in the sun. In the meeting, of course, was his counterpart, GPH Peace Implementing Panel Chair Undersecretary David Diciano and their respective teams.

The Bangsamoro education head delivered a five-page speech, drawing from some of his experiences as MILF peace panel chair. BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag “Al-Hajj Murad” Ebrahim was MILF peace panel chair, then replaced by Iqbal when he (Al-Hajj Murad) became the MILF chairman after the death on July 13, 2003 of MILF Founder and Chairman Ustadhz Salamat Hashim.

“One of the more important things that I have learned in my years as Chairman of the MILF Peace Panel is preparing myself for all the possibilities of a given scenario. May it be a change of environment, or of circumstances, or temperaments. This time, another change awaits us as the new Marcos Jr. administration steps in by the end of the month,” Iqbal points out in his speech.

The GPH and MILF peace panels created their respective Peace Implementing Panel on March 21, 2017. Enshrined in the implementing panels’ Terms of Reference (TOR) is their “resolve to build on the gains of the peace process in the implementation of the signed agreements, including all existing mechanisms of the peace process.”

Also covered is their mandate “to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and other agreements that may be signed by the Parties.”

Iqbal complimented the partnership he has with Diciano, who is also an official of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) chaired by Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr.

“Working together with my able counterpart, Chairman Diciano, we have come far and reached considerable milestones as GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panels during the Duterte administration. We may be coming from two sides — the MILF and the GPH.

The meeting of the GPH and MILF Peace Implementing Panels.

“But individually, I consider you all as brothers and sisters in the pursuit of our common goal of achieving genuine peace and justice in Mindanao. It has been an honor and privilege to have partnered with you in the GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panels over the last six years,” said the BARMM minister.

At the same time, he conceded that there were challenges the panels encountered, recalling when Duterte advised the panels “to navigate…those hindrances and obstacles.”

“I wish to express my appreciation to everyone in both panels for our collective resolve in navigating these challenges, including the issue of the International Monitoring Team (IMT),” he adds.

Of course, Iqbal sure remembered the architect of the BARMM’s creation, the President from Mindanao.

“Speaking of the good President Duterte, I wish to take this opportunity to personally thank him for the confidence in this group. The MILF Peace Panel is truly grateful to President Duterte for the fulfillment of his promises of supporting the peace process during his term, starting with reviving the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in 2017, which I was also a part of.

“Through the BTC, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) had a second chance into becoming a law. Not only this but his unwavering recognition of the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people and the need to address the historical injustices committed against them, which reinforced and strengthened the conviction of the late President Noynoy Aquino that the ARMM is a failed experiment, created ripples and tipping point that delivered to our people the BARMM.”

MILF grateful to all who played roles in Mindanao peace process

The MILF and BARMM official credited the President’s “strong political will” on the 17th Congress’s approval of Republic Act No. 11054, otherwise known as the BOL. He added that Duterte’s public support for the law sent a powerful message that convinced voters in Muslim Mindanao in the 2019 plebiscite “who then overwhelmingly voted YES to ratify the (BOL).”

Iqbal also credited the President for heeding the call to extend the original three-year transition period — 2019 to 2022 — for another three years until 2025 as the reforms being put in place in the Bangsamoro region were hampered by the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

“Truly, the Bangsamoro found a sincere and lifetime ally in President Rodrigo Duterte. We congratulate him and his administration on their achievements, and we wish him only the best in the future.”

“I could say that there are thoughtful memories to look back on, experiences to learn from, and room for improvements as we move on to the next chapter of this journey. I take comfort in knowing that the peace process under the new administration will not be starting from scratch. There is a lot to build on and build from moving forward,” notes Iqbal.

Meanwhile, he emphasized what he termed as “critical” engagement between GPH and MILF “given the political landscape in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”

He adds, “To be straightforward, it is our sincere hope that the parties to the peace process sustain the momentum by being precise and consistent with the signed peace agreements,” at the same time assuring of the MILF’s preparedness “to rise above the challenges, as it has always over the years.”

Iqbal indicated as much from which the MILF resolve comes from, the Bangsamoro people rallying behind them, saying because of them, “We will never give up.”

The MILF and Bangsamoro official did not forget to thank Dató Kamarudin bin Mustafa, the Malaysian facilitator, and Malaysia’s government “for their kindness in assisting the Panels every step of the way.”

It can be recalled that Malaysia as host and facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace talks spent millions of United States dollars for the hotel accommodation, food, and transportation of the two peace panels.

Last but not the least, Iqbal voiced appreciation to GPH, OPAPRU and their peace teams for their efforts towards the success of the peace process.

“To our friends and fellow peace advocates in the international community, we thank you for fully committing to support and stand by us through tumultuous times and emotions. Your invaluable partnership with us has gotten as this far. Your presence along the way certainly helps propel the peace process to the right direction.”

He encouraged all those who played parts in the search for peace in Southern Philippines to continue, confident “the Bangsamoro peace process will go on.”

To reiterate, the implementation of the CAB signed by GPH and MILF on March 27, 2014 passes from the Duterte administration to the new Marcos administration at 12 noon time on June 30, in the Year of the Water Tiger. (✓)

Update was made on some of the dates mentioned in the article. (2022/06/19)

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Featured image shows a dove illustration symbolizing peace. Credit: Pixabay.

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