Making Peace Work with the Bangsamoro: Imperatives of the BTA Extension

By Yasmira P. Moner
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science,
Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology
17 March 2021

 

We are in no illusion that three more years of extension period for the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA) will guarantee a more peaceful, stable, and developed Bangsamoro region, so why support the call for the BTA extension?

Over the weekend, on March 12 (Saturday), peace advocates from the Lanao areas (Lanao del Sur including Marawi City and Lanao del Norte) have successfully held a peace caravan of thousands four-wheeled vehicles and motorcycles with an estimated 10 thousand warm bodies joining the 290 kilometers-caravan routes stretching through the national highway of Lanao del Norte and on to Sultan Gumander town in Lanao del Sur to demonstrate the urgency of the BTA extension until 2025. Aware of the legal concerns and issues raised regarding the appeal for the extension of the BTA[i], I see the need to also raise the words of those I have talked with, in both my virtual and actual conversations regarding the controversial issue of the BTA extension. Be that as it may, this piece does not represent the plurality of voices within the Bangsamoro, yet it is a conscious, deliberate, and sincere articulation weighing on the affirmative action in the context of peace-promoting political processes.

In this essay, I have outlined three (3) humble propositions on why there is a need for the Philippine government to consider extending the period of the BTA, as follows: (1) the current MILF-led BTA is a necessary boost in the confidence-building measures and trust-building in the MILF communities which are needed in the course of decommissioning and camp transformation in the Bangsamoro; (2) The extension period serves as a grace period for the civil society stakeholders in the BARMM to mobilize and form their own party list that can compete for the regular elections and; (3) The extended period will provide enough time for the Bangsamoro caretaker government to legislate the remaining priority legislations namely, Bangsamoro Electoral Code, Educational Code, Local Government Code, Revenue Code and Indigenous People’s Code without compromising the quality and processes of needed “mashuwara” (consultations) and public hearings in the spirit of democratic participation and feedbacking from all stakeholders in the region.

What is a better way to go in the path of peace less traveled?

 

Sustaining the Momentum of Peacebuilding

The Bangsamoro Organic Law is an amalgamation of various and competing interests. On one hand, the interest of the Philippine government is to address the Moro separatists’ agenda within the ambit of the Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the fulfillment of the spirit and intent of self-governance by the Bangsamoro people on another.[ii] In principle, the MILF does not only represent the interests of their families and communities, but the larger Bangsamoro communities including the non-Moro Indigenous people – right to their ancestral domains – and the Christian migrant and their descendants – who may not ascribe to the Bangsamoro identity.[iii] After all, the law serves the interests of the people, not the other way around.

The Bangsamoro more than being a distinct socio-cultural identity, is also a negotiated space for its communities – Muslims, Christians, Indigenous Peoples – which ought to transcend the parochial biases of religion, ethnicity, and even political ideology in order to build and re-build, a stronger foundation of a just and lasting peace in the region. No less than the Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, Jr. iterated that cooperation from the MILF-led BTA is key in the full implementation of the normalization track of the Bangsamoro peace process[iv]. Thus, it can be argued that extending the BTA mandate is a buy-in for the MILF to perform its task, particularly in policing its own ranks while the process of transformation of the revolutionary group into a social movement is underway. In doing so, relationships between the armed forces of the state and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), through the Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) are evolving into a new wave of friendship, which is a moral imperative in transforming violent conflicts.

 

Strengthening People’s Participation in Governance

Sustaining peace demands people’s participation. In the Bangsamoro, peace and governance are not mutually exclusive. Peaceful governance is one of the aspirations that was commonly articulated during the peace hub online conversations conducted last December 2020, implemented by The Asia Foundation (TAF) with the support from the British Embassy Manila. These multi-stakeholders’ conversations are aimed at promoting public participation in the Bangsamoro political transition and subsequently, opening the civic space for collaborative engagements with government and non-government partners, academe, industries, private sector, church and other social groups and organizations. For instance, a non-Moro Indigenous woman leader from North Cotabato has emphatically expressed, “We the non-Moro IPs have always been consistent in supporting the peaceful resolve of the Bangsamoro people in building a peace-promoting, ecologically-balanced and humane development for all. Peace without respect to customary law and practices of the cultural communities is not inclusive peace”.[v] Sustaining the gains of the peace process does not only increase social trust, but is also an important element in a locally rooted sustainable peace and development goal. The BTA extension can further the cause of the non-Moro IPs as they seek to assert their political and social space in the Bangsamoro peace table towards culturally sensitive and inclusive development. As an advocate of multicultural peacebuilding, I dare say that the “Bangsamoro is more than Muslim Mindanao”. It is a HOME to every Bangsamoro, Muslim, Christian, and Indigenous People working together in peace and harmony.

 

Institution-building and Building Back Better

            Furthermore, the Bangsamoro like the rest of the world is undergoing an unprecedented crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes institution-building a lot more difficult, particularly in a transitional governance set-up of the Bangsamoro. Expanded political powers and fiscal autonomy also entails greater responsibility in the context of transparent, accountable, and participatory-based governance.[vi] More than a political imperative, the extension of the BTA will practically increase the critical engagements of the civil society actors in partnership with both international and local development partners working towards social cohesion and economic empowerment. Institution-building in the Bangsamoro is an opportunity that should strengthened participation of women, youth and indigenous cultural communities, who are actively engaged in promoting a cultural and gender-responsive governance. Feedbacking and willingness to talk to those who are critical and apprehensive to the proposed measure is part and parcel of building back better. After all, the appeal for the postponement of the BARMM elections is a detour that must be discussed by all stakeholders on the ground.

Finally, this not to say that the peace-building in Mindanao solely rest on the BTA. After all, the business of working towards sustainable peace and humane development is everyone’s responsibility. However, allowing an extended period for the BTA to institutionalize the deepening of democratic institutions in the BARMM is a political battle worth fighting for in the spirit of building a peaceful, inclusive and resilient Bangsamoro region, and Mindanao as a whole.

 


Prof. Yasmira P. Moner is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Political Science, Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT). Concurrently, she is the Acting Director of the MSU-IIT Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao, and complements her academic works by engaging in community involvement and extension services. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Access Bangsamoro, its proponents, or affiliates.


 

END NOTES

[i]https://accessbangsamoro.ph/2021/01/28/on-the-proposed-barmm-extension/

[ii]Rudy Rodil’s PEACETALK: Reflections on the GRP-MILF Peace Process, By Rudy B. Rodil, available at: https://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/peacetalk/2009/01/peacetalk-reflections-on-the-grp-milf-peace-process-by-rudy-b-rodil/

[iii] See https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2018/07/27/republic-act-no-11054/

[iv]See Bong Sarmiento’s news feature entitled “EO on normalization a big boost to Bangsamoro peace deal, MILF says” available at: https://www.mindanews.com/peace-process/2019/05/eo-on-normalization-a-big-boost-to-bangsamoro-peace-deal-milf-says/

[v]Peace hub conversation, December 29, 2021.

[vi]See Moner and Aceron TPA Now! Building Transparency, Participation and Accountability in BARMM amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic”, available at: https://www.g-watch.org/author/yasmira-moner-and-joy-aceron