Peace process is a complex situation. There can be several terminologies that most of us may not be able to understand and comprehend easily and share to others. The Bangsamoro peace process is also complex process of addressing centuries of social injustices that happened in Mindanao. Thus, the challenge for us, especially in the academe, is how can we explain this in simple terms? How can a Juan or Abdul or Maryam, understand the different terminologies that we have within this peace process.
In explaining some key points, I would like to take the Frequently Ask Question (FAQ) of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) pamphlet that they distribute in the public. You may also access this in their website http://www.opapp.gov.ph/milf/faqs-framework-agreement-bangsamoro.
Let us start with the definition of terms.
Q: What is the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro?
A: The Framework Agreement outlines the general features of the political settlement between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
It defines the structure and powers of the Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It also sets the principles, processes and mechanisms for the transition until the regular election in 2016 for the new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity. The Agreement paves the way forward to the just resolution of the historical divide between the Government and the Bangsamoro.
Q: Why is there a need for a Framework Agreement? What is its significance?
A: The Framework Agreement puts together the points of consensus achieved in the series of talks between the GPH and the MILF that took off with the forging of the Ceasefire Agreement in 1997. It elaborates on the nature of the political entity that will replace the ARMM. This new entity shall be called the Bangsamoro. The document also charts the road map or the steps and mechanisms for the transition leading to the creation of the Bangsamoro. The road map can aptly be described as an inclusive and people-driven process.
Q: Is this the final peace agreement?
A: Not yet. The GPH and MILF panels will continue to discuss the details that will form the different annexes to the Agreement. There shall be annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization and transitional mechanisms. The Framework document and the Annexes all together will constitute the comprehensive agreement. Both panels aim to finish the annexes within this year.
Those three points are a good start in discussing the Bangsamoro peace process. In my engagement with different people and communities, local and abroad, I always encounter this question, “why can’t the MILF and MNLF just work together and have peace in Mindanao?”. My usual answer to this question is that we do hope and pray that this will happen. Unfortunately, the realities on the ground is also very complex rooted on historical differences of the Sulu sultanate and Maguindanao sultanate, and layers of identities that needs to have process of continuous dialogue between and among the Muslims in Mindanao.
We go back a little and try to define the word Bangsamoro.
Q: Who or what is the Bangsamoro?
A: Those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether mixed or of full native blood shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription. Spouses and their descendants shall also enjoy this right. The freedom of choice of other Indigenous peoples shall be respected.
All peoples in the Bangsamoro are Filipino citizens.
The name Bangsamoro thus is an identity, not a citizenship. It also refers to the new autonomous political entity that shall be created in replacement of the ARMM.
Q: Why is the new political entity named Bangsamoro?
A: President Aquino, in his October 7 speech announcing the signing of the draft GPH-MILF Framework Agreement, said that this new political entity will be called Bangsamoro as “it it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation.”
We have to understand also that in a peace process, there are at least two approaches. The vertical approach, which refers to the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the horizontal approach, refers to the dynamics of the people in Mindanao. The word “people” here means all the different groups, religious, political, ethno linguistic groups, and so on.
The horizontal approach is where the challenge is. We need to have the support and clear understanding of the general public about the Bangsamoro. Why? Because we are all stakeholders of peace in Mindanao. The peace process is very much connected to our future and the future of our children’s children. The entire nation will invest not only in terms of our taxes in helping rebuild the Bangsamoro, but also for our nation to heal.
The challenging point in the Bangsamoro peace process is what we call the Normalization stage. This is another term that needs to be explained to our people within the Bangsamoro and the nearby regions and provinces.
The OPAPP documents says that, “Normalization is the process through which communities affected by the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao can return to a peaceful life and pursue sustainable livelihoods free from fear of violence and crime. It involves the transition of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) to a peaceful civilian life, which includes putting their weapons beyond use. It also involves the redress of unresolved legitimate grievances and the rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas.”
This simply means that the entire peace process aims to have a “normal” situation in the Bangsamoro communities. Normal may mean peaceful and developed region for all the people within the Bangsamoro.
Another question our people may also ask, “how will the normalization process address the condition of communities that have been affected by the armed conflict?” The OPAPP says that, “there will be intensified development efforts for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and development of conflict-affected areas. Specifically, programs wlll be instituted to address the needs of BIAF members, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and poverty-stricken communities.
I know there are still several points that we need to know about the Bangsamoro peace process. But what is important is that we get the right information from the right source. Bangsamoro is a work in progress. We do hope that this may help us in addressing the conflict in Central Mindanao.