CAB’s 4th Anniversary

On 27 March 2018, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as well as countless peace advocates, citizens closely following the peace process and Muslim communities in the Bangsamoro homeland, will commemorate the 4th year anniversary of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), signed in 2014. 

A product of more than seventeen (17) years of hard and harsh peace negotiations, the CAB covers all agreements signed by the parties, from the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities in 18 July 1997, which was instrumental in jumpstarting the peace negotiations, to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro of 15 October 2012, which defined the crucial elements and mechanisms that would facilitate the establishment of a new autonomous political entity referred to as Bangsamoro.

It is understood that peace processes, which often entails a series of activities that aims to solve a conflict through peaceful means, do not reach their goals overnight. 

Nevertheless, stakeholders of the process anticipated that an important milestone in the post-CAB scenario would have been already achieved by now: the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the legal instrument that would create the envisioned Bangsamoro government. Tied to the peace process, the BBL is no ordinary piece of legislation as it carries the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people enshrined in the negotiated peace agreements. It is meant to solve an enduring problem: the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination, defined by MILF peace implementing panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal as the Bangsamoro’s capability to “freely establish their political status and pursue their economic, cultural and social development.” And with the creation of new political institutions, the BBL hopes to create an enabling environment for overdue structural reforms and socio-economic development in conflict-affected areas.

The BBL did not make it during the 16th Congress. The main reason probably was the Mamasapano incident on January 25, 2015 where 44 Police Special Action Force (SAF), 17 MILF fighters, and five civilians died. Truly, a game changer that outright snuffed out the  life of the proposed law.

At present, the BBL remains in the 17th Philippine Congress wherein the upper and lower chambers have their respective versions and in different phase of the legislative process. The Senate committee tasked to deliberate on the BBL has finalized its report. 

The result was Senate Bill 1717, filed by its main author, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri. Meanwhile, the House of Representative BBL sub-committee has concluded its public consultations and is expected to finish its own committee report in due time. 

Congress hopes to pass the law by May, well before President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. Congress should have a sense of urgency vis-à-vis the BBL. For outstanding questions on the law, the GPH and the MILF, through the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, are more than willing to engage in constructive dialogue to help move the process forward. While peace process can be political, supporters of the BBL call upon bureaucrats and legislators to set-aside personal interests to give way to a higher purpose of improving the lives of the Bangsamoro who have long been marginalized in their own homeland.

The Bangsamoro peace process is not happening in a vacuum and is affected by Mindanao’s security situation, now exacerbated by the presence of ISIS followers with their intolerance for others’ beliefs and penchant for unrestrained violence. The delays in the implementation of the CAB has unfortunately provided an opening for these extremist groups, allowing them to feed on Bangsamoro people’s frustrations over the BBL’s current state.  ISIS sympathizers were able to brazenly push their agenda in the City of Marawi, which has trodden the dignity of its residents and caused significant damages to a once vibrant city.

The Marawi crisis was indeed a challenge for both government and the MILF, whose own brethren were severely affected by the fighting and the airstrikes. But the partnership between government and MILF was further strengthened with the creation of a peace corridor, now called Joint Coordinating, Monitoring and Assistance Centers (JCMAC), to assist fleeing civilians at the height of the hostilities, eventually saving 255 lives. While it remains as a revolutionary organization, the MILF respects the principles of international humanitarian law and safeguard of noncombatants and vulnerable groups is paramount in times of crisis.

For the CAB’s 4th anniversary, the MILF leadership and supporters of the Bangsamoro peace process hope for the passage of the BBL in Congress. A breakthrough in the peace process is long overdue and seriously needed, especially by Bangsamoro communities growing weary of waiting. Deferments in completing what the Bangsamoro peace process set to do, as well as the complications in Marawi’s reconstruction and rehabilitation, would create new cycle of grievances that can be manipulated by spoilers. The government, MILF and other key actors have come so far, and it would be a disservice to the Bangsamoro people and the Philippines to allow another four years pass by before the commitments in the negotiated peace settlement are fully implemented.