THE Expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (EBTC) successfully conducted the 1st Bangsamoro Assembly with at least one million participants and delegates coming from different provinces and municipalities in Mindanao. The Assembly is one of the mandates of the EBTC as mentioned in Executive Order No. 08 signed by President Duterte last November 2016. One of the main objectives of the assembly was to gather support and strong endorsement from the Bangsamoro people for the enactment and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted by the EBTC.

The Assembly was held at the Old Capitol Building, Sultan Kudarat municipality, Maguindanao province, last November 26 - 27, 2017. It was an historical event as it showed the unity of the different stakeholders of the Bangsamoro people coming from the different provinces in Mindanao.

The success of the Bangsamoro Assembly can be attributed to the strong leadership of Moro Islamic Liberation Front - Central Committee and the Expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission. It is also because of the convergence of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and key stakeholders within the Bangsamoro. Different peace civil society organizations, non government organizations, youth organizations, and members from the academe also supported the assembly.

The presence of the Bangsamoro masses in the assembly showed their strong support to the Bangsamoro peace process. Many of them travelled from the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi just to attend and participate in the assembly. They spend their own resources and most of them arrived as early as the 25th of November and set up their tents near the Old Capitol. My impression of the event is that the MILF is the only organization that can mobilize that huge crowd within the Muslim communities in our country.

After the assembly, there were different reactions from various groups. Some were not impressed of the message of President Duterte because he did not mention the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. He only mentioned federalism and “one Philippine republic”. I cannot question nor argue with those negative reactions. We are in a democratic process and people are entitled of their own opinion. However, the challenge is how we become peace communicator on the ground? How we deliver message of peace and manage expectations of the Bangsamoro people who have long been deprived of their expression of right to self determination?

President Duterte’s commitment to achieving peace in Mindanao is more holistic and even comprehensive. The President is aware that when we say “Peace in Mindanao”, we have to understand that Mindanao has six administrative regions with provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays. The mainland plus the island provinces makes Mindanao a huge socio political landscape. Therefore, when we say peace in Mindanao, it must include not only the Bangsamoro peace processes but also the IP concerns and the other peace processes. However, one of his administration’s main agenda is to the address the Bangsamoro problem.

As a member of the EBTC, I feel the need to continue our work in communicating peace messages with the Bangsamoro and Filipino people. As of now, the big challenge in our peace advocacies and peace building work lie in the hands of our lawmakers in Congress.

I know the assembly may still be not enough to convince the Filipino nation to support the Bangsamoro peace process and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. But just I cannot imagine what will happen if the one million crowd will again be frustrated with our government and our lawmakers.

I am a strong advocate of the principle of “active non violence”. We need to make sure that we teach our youth of the principle and values of adhering to non violence. The Bangsamoro peace process is one of the longest peace processes in the world today. Three generations of the Bangsamoro people were affected of the conflict. We simply cannot afford to have another armed conflict that will displaced thousands of civilians simply because we failed to recognise the century old problem of the Bangsamoro people.

We are fortunate that the MILF have decided to settle for an autonomy instead of having a separate independent state. We have to take this move of the MILF on the positive side and nurture the peace gains that we have worked for more than two decades. We cannot simply allow the violent extremist groups to continue to hijack the narrative of the Bangsamoro people’s right to self determination and addressing their legitimate grievances.

The Bangsamoro Assembly have shown to us the commitment of the Bangsamoro people to have a long lasting peace in Mindanao. On the other hand, it also raised a lot of expectations on the ground that peace is within our reach. The challenge is how we need to manage these expectations.

The presence of the international donor agencies, diplomatic corp and local government units in the assembly also showed to us that we have local and international support of the peace process. Now is the time where we need to have more patience and commitment to the Bangsamoro peace process and support our government’s peace initiatives.