Good start in KL

The first meeting between the peace teams of the MILF and Government of the Philippines (GPH) under the Duterte administration in Kuala Lumpur last August 13-14 was by any yardstick a good start. There was no sign of any of the hassles that described the early efforts to bring back the peace process into its formal track. Even the role of Malaysia, as third country facilitator, which was questioned by some quarters had never had any hint of an issue.  In fact, Secretary Jesus Dureza, in his opening statement, was overflowing with praises and good words for Malaysia: “This ceremony today is also a public recognition of the significant contribution of Malaysia to the Bangsamoro peace process. We sincerely thank them and invite them now to become one of our Global Partners for Peace, joining the rest of our international development partners here present.”

The same positive atmosphere was also seen during the launching ceremony for the two implementing panels earlier that day. It was like a get-together of old friends and long-time associates. In truth, all the speakers spoke of the great hope awaiting the peace process especially the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) under the current administration.
In more than one, there is indeed more reasons to rejoice. Constituting the five-person GPH panel are men and women well known to the MILF. They have been dealing with each other on many occasions and capacities. Except one, all hail from Mindanao.
More importantly, the commitment of President Rodrigo Duterte to implement all agreements and pass the BBL is beyond any question. Among other statements, here’s one, which he said during the third presidential debate in Pangasinan on April 24: “I would like to tell you and I’m telling now to the Republic of the Philippines, nothing will appease the Muslim, the Moro people if you do not give them the BBL".
Like the previous Aquino administration, the current administration of Duterte enjoys a great rating in terms of trust and confidence among the Bangsamoro people including the MILF. If Aquino started his stint with the MILF with a meeting in Tokyo, Japan in August 2011, Duterte also met MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in June this year. The other plus factors, in the case of the latter, are varied: Like the Aquinos, Duterte is not anti-Moro; moreover, he has a Moro blood running in his veins. He is also close to all Moro tribes in Mindanao especially in Davao City.
Be this as it may, like the previous experience with the Aquino administration, it is not always advisable to be optimistic; in fact, there are times that optimism is not good and does not help. It creates false expectation and sends some people to passivity which in the end raised more problems than solving one.
The truth of the matter is that passing the BBL is a legislative process which the MILF has no participation at all. It is a unilateral responsibility of the GPH. The only role of the MILF is through its peace implementing panel whose task is only to monitor the status and movement of the BBL in Congress. It cannot and will not participate. Quite similarly, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which is tasked, among others, to craft the BBL and engage Congress and other government agencies, but it is still mainly under the Office of the President (OP).
Clearly, the delivery of the BBL depends much on the push of the OP or the President and the cooperation of the members of Congress. It is a priority bill and therefore, as early possible, it has to be certified as urgent bill. More importantly, it should be a national agenda.