Challenges to the Bangsamoro project.

After the long 17 years of struggles and negotiations, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have finally signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that seeks to end more than four decades of Muslim secessionist movements and violence in southwestern Mindanao.

Will the Bangsamoro agreement bring peace to Mindanao? (Photo from Rappler.com)

Will the Bangsamoro agreement bring peace to Mindanao? (Photo from Rappler.com)

The framework agreement on the Bangsamoro has four annexes, each one tackling normalization, revenue generation and wealth sharing, transitional arrangement and modalities. These describe and justify the Bangsamoro as an identity, a territory and as a new political entity. However, despite the best efforts by the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government to reconstruct the political system in Mindanao, the framework has vulnerabilities that might impede its success.

Inclusivity and factionalization. Amidst development in the peace process, not everyone is in favor of the deal. Other militant groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari and the Abu Sayyaf have been excluded from the talks. The Philippine government continues to fight armed splinter groups in the south and the prevalence of factionalization could arise among rebel groups in Mindanao. While the MILF negotiation with the national government seems to be in the pace of success, some of its members who favored an armed struggle for independence left and assembled a separate group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that has been recently involved in minor skirmishes with the Philippine military.

The negotiation process has heavily relied on Malaysia as its mediator which opens speculations whether the Bangsamoro government will give up its claim over the separate issue of territorial disputes over Sabah.

Capability and resources. As part of the agreement, the new political entity will be granted authority to govern its financial resources and levy taxes appropriately as prescribed in the agreement. The new Bangsamoro government will also receive 75 percent of taxes collected in the region, those revenues from metallic minerals and some control of fishing territories.

However, the question of proper mechanism and dynamics to properly run the entire financial administration and funding is vulnerably at stake. Although it can’t be assumed that the substate is not capable at all to conduct all the financial management it requires, there is a need to build its capacity and knowledge in handling public financial resources as it now involves the quality of governance in the Bangsamoro.

Police power and territorial jurisdiction. The supervision and training for the police forces in the Bangsamoro state remains problematic and unclear, especially as regards to where police power should emanate. Should the Bangsamoro region possess its own police power over its territory or should they still be subjected under the national government’s direction?

This requires a long term development program for the Bangsamoro to strengthen its police forces; and the issue of loyalty prevails if there will be two national police forces to be established.

Equal representation. In this “transitional democracy” to be handed to the Bangsamoro people, there must be solidarity among all Filipino people. They must be on the same page with regard to ending the conflict in the southern Philippines.

The peace development process includes a plebiscite once the Bangsamoro Basic Law has been passed by the middle of next year or even earlier, where the current residents of the “envisioned core territory” will be asked to ratify the Bangsamoro’s establishment. Former government negotiator Marvic Leonen, who is now a member of the Supreme Court, said that the plebiscite is what differentiates the newly signed agreement with the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain initiated by the Arroyo Administration. That agreement was struck down by the Supreme Court.

As the Aquino administration pushes for the new Bangsamoro region in 2016, the only way to make this new beginning worth striving for peace and development in Mindanao is the trust that the Filipino people would grant the current administration. This is going to be a long process, and nobody denies the difficulties.

Originally posted: The Observers

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