Bunye: The long road to peace and development

Speaking Out

FINALLY, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law last Thursday, July 26, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which seeks to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao through the establishment of a new framework for the island's governance and development.

The original measure was first proposed in the 16th Congress, during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III, but got derailed by the Mamasapano Massacre in 2015. Following the bloody encounter, the public rejected the proposed law forcing Congress to momentarily shelve it.

But thanks to the persistence of the current administration, the issue was resurrected in the 17th Congress and the rest, as they say, is history.

President Rody originally intended to sign the law -- in dramatic fashion -- during his third Sona but, then again, another conflict intervened.

An intramural within the House "super majority" -- which resulted in the ousting of Pantaleon Alvarez and the installation of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as new House Speaker -- provided the last minute hitch. The squabble prevented the ratification of the bill by the House in time for the Sona.

To her credit, Arroyo ensured its ratification as soon as the political dust in the House settled.

Indeed, Arroyo has as much stake that the proposal be signed into law immediately. It was during her term as President that peace talks between the government and the MILF actually started.

Her predecessor, former President Joseph Estrada, would have none of the peace talk "nonsense." Estrada wanted to end the decades old conflict in the field. At one time, photographs portrayed Estrada, in camouflage outfit, as personally supervising an assault on the former MILF stronghold in Camp Abubakar.

For most of Arroyo's term, peace talks -- 30 plus in all -- were held between the government and representatives of the MILF. Kuala Lumpur provided the neutral venue for the talks.

While the Kuala Lumpur talks were ongoing, an International Monitoring Team (IMT) was headquartered in Cotabato City, to see to it that peace prevailed on the ground. The IMT consisted of 60 representatives from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Norway and the EU.

The KL talks carried over to President Aquino and culminated in 2012 when PNoy and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. This was the basis of the bill filed -- but got aborted -- in the 16th Congress.

In 2014, under President Rody, a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed.

As in the predecessor Framework Agreement, the MILF agreed to turn over its firearms to a third party and to decommission its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

In exchange, the government would allow the creation of the autonomous political entity named Bangsamoro, replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The newly-signed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) covers Bangsamoro identity, Bangsamoro territory, Bangsamoro government, Bangsamoro justice system, Bangsamoro economic and financial framework and provisions relating transition to the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

But the biggest sweetener is the massive funding for the new political entity consisting of an annual block grant of roughly P78 billion, as well as possible additional development subsidies.

Legislators felt it was a win-win amount considering that the government would have incurred the same -- in actual and opportunity costs -- in case of a continued armed conflict.

This should make everybody happy but Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza cautions: The BOL is not a magic bullet which will automatically endall the armed conflict in Mindanao.

The MILF, it will be recalled, broke away from the MNLF with whom the government, under then President Fidel V. Ramos, earlier made peace. Already, there is a breakaway group from the MILF. Not to mention the extremist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute.

But Dureza, who has been involved in the peace process under three Presidents, said the government under President Rody is determined to walk through the long road "one peace at a time."

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