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PEACETALK: On Reading the President’s Mind

by Abdillah Othman

MAGUINDANAO (MindaNews / 05 December) — President Rodrigo Duterte spoke to the Bangsamoro Assembly in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat on November 27, 2017. Correctly or wrongly, we try to read the President’s mind.

In his opening statement, the President addressed the nation and called upon all Filipinos to ponder upon “the hardest problem of them all” facing his administration.

He said “The centerpiece of my election was really the federal setup of government… Actually, what is at stake here is the preservation of the Filipino Republic and to correct a historical injustice” which began with our colonization by many nations “and still is”.

From our point of view we cannot dispute the President: He is correct and we are with him. It was through these historical injustices that the Moros suffered violence, oppression, unnecessary killing, and the fight began to retake from the colonizers the territory that was theirs at that time.

Out of their new-born nationalism and through sheer frustration, the Moros organized a revolutionary movement so that these injustices to their people would be averted and stopped.

We fully agree with the President that we all belong to one Malay race. We do not need to go on fighting when we can talk about peace, as we build our country.

It was in this context that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), I believe, responded positively and with sincerity to the government to find the solutions to a lasting peace. This hope was achieved with the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on October 15, 2012 and the  Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsmoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014.

President Duterte stressed, however, that peace talks and peace settlements must be inclusive of the MILF, MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), Lumads, Christians and with no one left behind.

Inclusivity was a hallmark of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), with its members representing various sectors of Moro society, indigenous people, and Christians.

Inclusivity was the reason for the conduct of extensive direct consultations, dialogues and open forums with people of the Bangsamoro region, as well as, in the major key cities of Visayas and Luzon.

Ordinary people, the military, different religious groups, students, teachers, and government employees, Muslims and non-Muslims were invited to hear and to be heard on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and how it could bring change and peace into their lives. Many concerns and hopes were acknowledged and officially recorded.

President Duterte expanded membership in the BTC to 21 to include outstanding lawyers, the religious sector, members of the academe, Islamic jurists and representatives of the indigenous people. The inclusive membership was tasked to refine and to improve the original BBL, responsive to new ideas of governance, constitutional challenges, and inclusive solutions for peace in Mindanao.

Members of the BTC scrutinized each provision of the BBL to ensure it would meet the challenge of its constitutionality. The BTC also sought opinions of legal experts to ensure that the proposed BBL would favorably hurdle constitutional issues.

President Duterte views Federalism as the inclusive solution to the diversity and progress of our society. It is huge change. If federalism shall be the ideal solution to our progress as one nation, then even if it involves constitutional change, we should all be willing to unite to support it. We are with him.

In their various statements, the MILF leadership tried to clear the air of any misgivings. They assured that that they are not in a hurry to assume the mantle of leadership of Muslim Mindanao.

The BBL is the product of many years of negotiations in good faith with Government. Throughout this period the members of the peace panel stood by the Moro aspirations for an entity of self-governance, inclusively embracing distinct cultures, religions, laws, customs and traditions of the region.

Administrative structures, asymmetric linkages and operative systems were debated, compromised and eventually settled among members of the peace panels. Mutual goodwill on both sides helped to facilitate cooperation on the sensitive areas of governance, control and supervision; and the reserved, common, exclusive powers and services of the Bangsamoro and of Government.

They also expressed the sincere hope that it might be helpful at the initial stages of Bangsamoro organization by contributing the factual background, input and framework of such negotiations, and by citing the contemporaneous wisdom of the peace panels in the formulation of its various Agreements.

The President said that he would “ask Congress to a special session just to hear you talk about this (BBL) in Congress.”

Appeal for the early approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law would assist to put into place the basic administrative mechanisms to pursue the goals of self-governance, economic self-sufficiency, progressive educational standards, modern infrastructure, improvements in potable water, health facilities and sanitation. And above all, to seek satisfactory remedies to cure the historical injustices in the Moroland, and to bring into reality Bangsamoro self-governance within the concept of One Nation, One Republic.

These are the simple needs of the long neglected Bangsamoro, who comprise different tribes, beliefs, dialects and ways of living exclusive to this region. They also strive to make their lives relevant and vibrant attuned to the changing world.

Appeal for the approval of the BBL is an urgent reality in these times, when Islamic extremism offers its tantalizing doctrines globally to an impressionable youth, who are greatly dissatisfied with an unmoving status quo and the acutely miserable conditions of the lives. The gambit being that: There is nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Time is of the essence.

While we understand that there is a process of law-making in both Houses of Congress, it is hoped that the Bangsamoro Basic Law may be revisited anew with vigor and enthusiasm by our legislators, considering the challenges, social injustices and inequities the Bangsamoro have faced for centuries in time, as well as, in the present with global radicalism hounding at our very gates, and promising to the discontented, the disregarded, and the youth a genuine and justified new world order.

To achieve a Bangsomoro entity with the unity and integrity of the Republic as One Nation; to preserve our homeland from the creeping scourge of violent Islamic extremism; to support the President’s vision of federalism as a remedy for social injustice.

These are the challenges of our times — the fulfilment of the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

We support the President. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Abdillah Othman is the pseudonym of an elderly Moro who attended the Bangsamoro Assembly last week).

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