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Will the Bangsamoro Organic Law pave the way for lasting peace and prosperity in Mindanao?
Last night, a Forum, Bangsamoro and Beyond: A National Conversation, was held and broadcasted seeking to involve and encourage a national discourse on the impact and implications of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, not just for lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao, but for the country as a whole.
The significance of this Law, which was finally ratified in Congress and signed by the President after his SONA (State of the Nation Address) last July, has been largely overshadowed by the many issues and concerns that continue to beset the country. The signing of this historic law by the President, scheduled to be held during the SONA was derailed by a sudden change of leadership in the lower House of Congress. A succession of political scandals, rising inflation, a weakening peso, threats of a coup, typhoons bringing landslides and destruction followed in quick succession.
And so, bringing a conversation like this to the limelight, during International Peace Month, is indeed significant.
The BOL provides a legal framework for the creation of an autonomous region for the Bangsamoro people where minority Muslims and indigenous people have been fighting for self-determination for many decades. It is seen as a way to redress historical injustices which arose from ancestral land disputes and to put an end to long years of armed conflict in the region. The area remains poverty stricken despite an abundance of resources, and secessionist groups, notably the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and MILF (More Islamic Liberation Front), had been fighting the military in a decades-long armed struggle
One administration after another has conducted peace negotiations with the main rebel groups, resulting in multiple versions of the proposed law. A Bangsamoro Law could have been ratified earlier during President Aquino’s administration if it wasn’t derailed by the Mamasapano massacre.
Thanks to the determined efforts of all the stakeholders, and learning from the mistakes of the past, the Law, which underwent numerous negotiations and discussions, was finally signed by President Duterte, himself a Mindanaoan.
The OLBARMM abolishes the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which was established in 1989. Beset by graft and corruption and, unable to bring peace and progress to the region, it was considered a failed experiment. In its stead, it creates the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), laying a new legal framework capable of finally fulfilling the aspirations of Filipino Muslims for autonomy and self-determination.
With it comes a real chance for peace as rebels lay down their arms and are reintegrated into the social fabric. The BOL lays the groundwork for the MILF and MNLF to integrate within the social and political process so that a unified government in the region can be established, a government that envisions inclusivity for all the peoples residing in the region.
Equally important, the Law finally recognizes that the Bangsamoro people, while being an integral part of the Filipino people, have a distinct identity of their own.
Section 3(b), Article X of the law states that they are “citizens who are believers in Islam and who have retained some or all of their own social, economic, cultural, and political institutions.” Section 1, Article II of the Organic Law defines them as “those who, at the advent of the Spanish colonization, were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands, whether of mixed or of full blood,” including their spouses and descendants.
Notwithstanding, the vision is one of inclusivity, wherein all, whether Muslim, Christian or Indigenous peoples, can live and work without the violence and strife that has marred the region, under a self- governing framework with shared aims.
Here are some highlights of the BOL. The provinces which will become part of the Bangsamoro are Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. A plebiscite will be held in January 2019 giving the residents a chance to ratify the law and to determine whether other barangays would like to be included.
The BARMM will be parliamentary-democratic in form and will be empowered to enact its own laws. The 80 member Parliament will be elected to represent different parties, districts, and sectors, including indigenous peoples. Members of the parliament will elect a chief minister and two deputy chief ministers among themselves with the chief minister appointing members of his Cabinet.
For the judiciary, Shariah courts have jurisdiction mainly over cases of relations and minor crimes with the Supreme court giving Shariah judges a period to fulfill ther qualifications. Tribal laws will continue to be applied to disputes of indigenous peoples within the region.
Equally important is fiscal autonomy. In the past, companies who have operations in Mindanao but have offices in Metro Manila pay their taxes in Metro Manila, depriving the area of much-needed revenues. The region’s share in government revenue taxes, fees, charges, and taxes imposed on natural resources will increase to 75 percent. The BARMM will have an automatic allocation of the annual block grant and the national government will also allocate P5 billion annually for ten years to rehabilitate conflict-affected areas.
While the national government will be responsible for the defense and security of the BARMM, the Philippine National Police will also organize, maintain, and supervise a Police Regional Office to enforce the law. with members of the MNLF and MILF may be admitted to the police force as another avenue of integration.
The Bangsamoro will have more autonomy than other regions in the country, giving the region the chance to finally take charge and determine their own course. While the national government will retain powers over constitutional and national matters, the Bangsamoro government will have exclusive powers over other areas such as the budget, justice, and customary laws. Agriculture, the creation of economic zones and sources of revenue, tourism, trade and industry ones, LGUs, public works, and social services will become the purview of the Bangsamoro government
So, it is no small wonder why hopes are high, among all the stakeholders who have worked so hard and so long to finally get this law passed. For today, the prospect of ending the violence and creating a society where the Bangsamoro people can live in peace and in accordance with their cultural and religious beliefs, and in a more inclusive environment that respects the needs of everyone has become a real possibility.
Long described as the land of plenty, Mindanao is a rich and abundant part of the Philippines and its peoples—Muslims, Indigenous and Christians alike– deserve a chance to live and chart a common destiny in peace. Progress in Mindanao will mean progress for the whole Philippines and peace in Mindanao will mean peace for all the Philippine islands.
While the groundwork has been laid to finally pave the way for the Bangsamoro peoples to determine their own future and destiny as part of the Filipino people, there are real challenges to face– addressing the politics of patronage, warlordism, and the threat of terrorism, to name a few.
Even those who worked hard to finally get this Law passed, know that this is just the first step in a long road still ahead. But, finally, here is a chance to change the Muslim narrative and for them to take their just place in the nation. In the final analysis, it will now be up to the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino people at large to work together for the long sought for peace and prosperity.
Footnote: The Mamasapano massacre happened during a police operation, codenamed Oplan Exodus, which took place on Sunday, January 25, 2015, at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, A mission to serve arrest warrants for high-ranking terrorists, the operation resulted in a deadly firefight that claimed the lives of 44 SAF commandos, 18 from the MILF and BIFF, 5 civilians and in the death of Zulkifli Abdhir as confirmed by the FBI and the PNP, one of FBI’s most wanted terrorists.