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PEACETALK: Status Report on the Accomplishments, Gaps and Challenges in the Implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro

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(Status Report on the Accomplishments, Gaps and Challenges in the Implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, presented by Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Peace Implementing Panel chair and concurrent Minister of Basic, Higher and Technical Education in the BARMM on the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the signing of the CAB. The celebration was held in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao del Norte on 27 March 2024). 

  1. Introduction

It was exactly ten years ago, on March 27, 2014 at the Malacanang Palace, when we signed the historic Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). Questions arise in the minds of those who are invested in the peace process, the most important of which is: “What is now the status of the CAB?”

I will attempt to capsulize what we have recorded as accomplishments in the span of 10 years; what are the gaps and challenges in the implementation; and what needs to be done to complete the implementation. Interestingly, we also ask: “Is an Exit Agreement in the horizon?”

This report is culled primarily from the perspective of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and by no means does it describe the complete picture because as you know the duty to implement the peace agreement is not only lodged with the MILF but with the national government as well. It is a collaborative effort and a continuing partnership that, to this day, is revered as a sacred and time-honored covenant among the parties. 

At the outset, let me emphasize that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine Government remain fully committed to the peace process. 

Spanning six (6) administrations from the late President Fidel V. Ramos to the current leadership of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., the MILF recognizes the earnest efforts of the Philippine Government to fulfill its commitments under the peace agreement.

At the global stage, we find ourselves on the edge of a precarious political situation, with over 50 active armed conflicts raging across the world, including the devastating crises in Ukraine and Gaza. At this very moment, we are witnessing a harrowing genocidal onslaught against innocent Palestinian men, women, and children in Gaza, while the international community stands frozen in paralysis, failing tragically to intervene and halt this catastrophic injustice.

This is why it is imperative to cherish the Bangsamoro peace agreement and to guard the peace, as if our very lives and the safety of our children depend on it, and as if the future of our entire nation hinges precariously upon its success.

The implementation of the CAB can be viewed in three tracks— the political or the normalization track; the legal track, which pertains to the Bangsamoro Organic Law (or BOL); and then there’s the constitutional track.  

I shall present the accomplishments in the implementation using these three tracks.

  1. Major Accomplishments
  1. Political Track

Decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons is the most visible aspect of normalization. It has progressed way ahead of the other aspects and has reached the third phase with a total of 26,132 MILF combatants profiled and processed, 4,625 weapons put beyond use and 6,317 pieces of ammunition turned over and disposed through the International Decommissioning Body (IDB), with the timely provision of transitional cash assistance amounting to Php 100,000.00 per decommissioned combatant. 

The Joint Normalization Committee (JNC) and the Joint Peace and Security Committee (JPSC), as other mechanisms of normalization, have also been established and operational.

However, much to the MILF’s dissent, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) has effectively been dislodged as part of the peace mechanisms. The failure to renew the Terms of Reference for the IMT, culminating in its withdrawal last June 30, 2022, has created a void in the monitoring, verification, and third-party investigation of ceasefire violations.

On the other hand, the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) composed of international bodies and domestic groups tasked to monitor the implementation of all agreements, is highly functioning and operational.  It releases regular Public Reports to provide updates and overall assessment of developments and progress in the implementation of all agreements between the Philippine government and the MILF. 

As part of confidence-building measures outlined in the Annex on Normalization, we are grateful to President Marcos Jr. under whose term the National Amnesty Commission (NAC) was formally constituted.  NAC is about to commence the application process and is expected to release the Implementing Rules and Regulations. 

Still integral to confidence-building measures, we commend the development of the Camps Transformation Plan and its Investment Program (2023-2028), which serves as a foundational guide for the transformation of the six (6) acknowledged MILF camps. Building on this groundwork, the GPH-MILF Joint Task Force for Camps Transformation has taken a significant step by identifying 36 priority barangays, with a comprehensive master plan already established for Camp Abubakar. 

Nevertheless, the MILF wishes to emphasize that under the CAB, the implementation of the agreement, especially aspects of Normalization including the Amnesty Program, must not proceed unilaterally.


B. The Legal Track:  Enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Establishment of the Bangsamoro

  1. Enactment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law

2024 is the fifth year since the enactment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), but it must be pointed out that this version approved by Congress in 2018 is not completely faithful to the CAB and its Annexes, particularly on the Power-Sharing Agreement.  Unfortunately, there were substantial provisions in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC)-approved Basic Law that were shelved on grounds of constitutionality.

With faith, the MILF holds on to the possibility of recovering the deleted provisions via proposals for constitutional amendment. 

  • Establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM)

The establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) with a parliamentary form of government is the crowning glory in the implementation of the peace agreement. BARMM is progressing towards self-governance that closely approximates the Bangsamoro people’s aspiration for self-determination.  

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority has enacted most of the priority Codes, the most crucial of which is the Bangsamoro Electoral Code, with emphasis on the formation of genuinely principled political parties. Its effectiveness and implementation will be tested in the upcoming 2025 Parliamentary elections.  The United Bangsamoro Justice Party is actively reorganizing and gearing up to meet the stringent criteria for accreditation as a regional political party. 

The proposed Bangsamoro Revenue Code is already filed as Parliament Bill No. 286 and referred to the Ways and Means Committee for the conduct of public consultations.   

Arguably, the BARMM enjoys stronger political powers compared to its predecessor, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 

BARMM’s territory is now expanded with the inclusion of Cotabato City and the 63 Barangays in North Cotabato. With the laws creating eight municipalities from the 63 barangays, we are awaiting the conduct of the simultaneous plebiscites on April 13, 2024 to secure ratification of these laws by the residents therein.

The MILF-led BARMM also makes wise use of the guaranteed block grant that is automatically appropriated for the Bangsamoro Government. The Bangsamoro Parliament then identifies priorities in the allocation of the budget among its ministries, offices, and agencies, thereby providing stronger opportunities for self-determination. 

  1. Constitutional Limitations

I spoke earlier about proposals for constitutional amendment. 

It is worth noting that the Bangsamoro Parliament adopted Resolution No. 433 expressing the sense of the Parliament in supporting Charter Change to resolve constitutional issues in the implementation of the CAB that necessitates amendment of the 1987 Constitution. Among these issues are: (1) the power sharing agreement that defines what is reserved to the national government, what is exclusive to the Bangsamoro government and what is concurrent powers to both; (2) The Sharia Justice System; (3) Policing in the Bangsamoro; (4) Supervision and control of the regional government over its local government units; (5) Delineation of powers of the Constitutional bodies vis-à-vis regional government and (6) Qualification of the Chief Minister.  

IV.   EXIT AGREEMENT

A major provision of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) is what we now know as the “Exit Agreement” to be signed by the Government of the Philippines and the MILF officially terminating the peace negotiation if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.  The TPMT shall convene a meeting with the panels of the parties and, together with the Malaysian Facilitator, review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all the agreements.  

As to when the Exit Agreement will be signed will depend on the pace of the implementation, and as assessed by the parties, together with the TPMT.  It may happen soon, or otherwise, depending on the compliance of the parties of their respective obligations.

GAPS AND CHALLENGES

In celebrating milestones in relation to the CAB, we must also be conscious of the challenges. Allow me to name a few:

  1. Lack of adequate funds for normalization

The delivery of socio-economic packages for the decommissioned combatants remains to be addressed. Both the MILF and the Government of the Philippines have obligations to help decommissioned combatants transition into productive civilian lives. We remain optimistic that the Government of the Philippines is able ensure that there are funds for said transition to take place.  

B. Imbalanced implementation of the Annex on Normalization

While decommissioning has reached the 3rd phase of implementation, the other components of normalization, such as the disbandment of private armed groups, camp transformation, reduction of small arms and light weapons are lagging behind, and need to catch up with the strides of the decommissioning process.  As it stands now, the implementation activities under these components are limited to planning, study, development of a road map, formation of committees and study groups and fund sourcing.

It must be noted that the Annex on Normalization itself provides that “the decommissioning of MILF forces shall be parallel and commensurate to the implementation of all the agreements of the Parties.” 

C.    Policing

The creation of a professional police force for the Bangsamoro, which is civilian in character, has not yet materialized. What is established instead is the PNP Police Regional Office in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (PRO-BAR) which is simply a regional office of the Philippine National Police (PNP). 

Moreover, the FAB provides that pending the implementation of the agreed policing in the Bangsamoro, the BTA shall have substantial participation in choosing the head and in the employment and the deployment of the existing PNP in the Bangsamoro.  Again, this is not directly observed and implemented. 

  1. Non-Renewal of the IMT

The non-renewal of the Terms of Reference of the IMT is contrary to the letter and spirit of the peace agreement.  The IMT, together with the other ceasefire mechanisms, was envisioned to stay until the end of the decommissioning, or until there are less chances of a ceasefire being broken between the parties.  As mentioned, there is now a void in the monitoring, verification, and third-party investigation of ceasefire violations.

  • Initialization of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation

Transitional Justice and Reconciliation, which is aimed at addressing the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correcting historical injustice and addressing human rights violation and dispossession of lands, is also left hanging. The recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission in its report have not been adopted, thereby missing the chance for national healing and reconciliation, the most effective way of preventing recurrence of violent conflict.

IV.   CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I wish to conclude this report by underscoring that the right to propose amendments to the constitution is one of the Basic Rights recognized under the CAB.  The peace agreement offers the possibility of proposing constitutional amendments to accommodate and entrench the agreements of the parties. The time is ripe to pursue the constitutional track to address the gaps in the implementation of the peace agreement.  Having exhausted the legal flexibility and creativity to fit the CAB within the narrow framework of constitution, we have proven in the last 10 years that the legal flexibility is simply not enough. 

Again, the MILF, through the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), will have to participate in the first parliamentary election in 2025 if we want to sustain our leadership in the BARMM.  

At stake here is not only the continuity of the peace process but also the preservation of the institutional and political reforms that we have already established in the Bangsamoro homeland.  This election is going to be highly contentious and doubly difficult for UBJP members who are considered amateurs in politics.  We are just starting to get organized and learning to adopt to a new form of struggle –- that is winning the votes through peaceful, clean and credible election. 

I call upon all members of the MILF to double your patience, widen your understanding and extend the avenues for trust and confidence in the peace process.  

In closing, allow me to take this opportunity to thank each one of you who travelled all the way from Malaysia, Cambodia, Australia, Manila, Davao, General Santos and North Cotabato for joining us in celebrating the triumph of peace.  The  peace process journey has brought together the best and the brightest and the most compassionate and persistent people that I know in the 17 long years of negotiation and 10 years of implementation of the peace agreement.   

Thank you for your support, solidarity and belief in the justness of the cause of the Bangsamoro people. 

Ramadhan Mubarak.

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