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MANILA, Philippines – The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reconvened on Wednesday, February 10, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to discuss means of moving forward after the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
GPH chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, in her opening statement, said that the meeting “could have been a much happier occasion” had the proposed law been passed.
The law was meant to implement key provisions of the peace agreement signed in 2014 by both parties, which aims to end decades of conflict in Mindanao.
“Despite the extraordinary efforts of our teams and all the other tireless peace advocates and congressional allies who traveled with us in this difficult journey of a thousand miles, we saw the session days in Congress wither away, without a BBL in sight,” Ferrer said.
The House of Representatives and the Senate went on a break on February 5 to prepare for the national campaign period that culminates in the May 9 presidential elections. The chronic absenteeism of the legislators was cited as one of the reasons for the failure to pass the BBL. (READ: Blame absentee, indifferent lawmakers for failed BBL)
The BBL was designed to implement provisions under the peace agreements signed by President Benigno Aquino III in 2014 – after negotiations that lasted 17 years. It would have also paved the way for a regional government – replacing the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – that would have more access to resources and power.
The GPH and MILF parties are joined in Malaysia by the European Union Ambassador (EU) Franz Jessen, United Kingdom Representative to the International Contact Group (ICG) Thomas Phipps, Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Chair Mo Bleeker, Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) Chair Mustafa Pulat, and Third-Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) Chair Alistair MacDonald.
Third-party facilitator Malaysia is continued to be represented by Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed.
Despite the non-passage of the legislation in the 16th Congress, Ferrer stressed that the path to peace is clear since the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) remains intact.
“The CAB remains our most viable road map, the source of the substance of the policies and legislation that we will continue to pursue under the next administration and the 17th Congress,” she said. “The next administration would be foolhardy to wage war, and [have] everything to gain by upholding this pathway. It will have enough time to see both the CAB and a CAB-compliant law realized”
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said that they have learned their lessons, pointing out “structural and systemic” problems. What needs to be addressed for now are the people’s frustrations, he said.
“We must provide them hope that there is a chance for passage of a CAB-compliant BBL whoever will be the next president,” he said. “We must work together to overcome the barriers to peace, justice, and reconciliation. Let us end the war, the suffering, the tragedy, and pains of our peoples, of the soldiers and our heroic fighters, of our mothers and sisters, of our children.”
According to Ferrer, more work has to be done to ensure an end goal that benefits both parties.
“We should listen more, engage more. This cause is ours, and so the main burden is ours. We shall prevail if we don’t give up now,” added Ferrer. “How many times in the past did events play out to push us almost to the brink of giving up? But precisely because we persevered, we have reached this far in the process.”
Preserve the gains
The upcoming polls should not deter the peace process, other said.
“No government can afford to neglect the peace process,” Macdonald stressed. “Not for reasons of national development, not for reasons of national security, and not for reasons that [belittle] the importance of not creating a climate for violent extremism.”
Jessen, invited by the panel to observe, said that the new meeting between the two parties is proof that “perseverance and commitment” have not been lost despite the obstacles along the way.
“The Parties, meeting here today, are proving that they, that you, are resilient and truly committed to peace. This is an important message to the public,” he said. “I encourage the Government of the Philippines and the MILF to continue seeking the paths for the implementation of commitments made over the 17 years of negotiations and continue their engagements.” – Rappler.com