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#PHVote: Mindanao after May 9


While many administrations abandon achievements by their predecessors because of personal or party rivalries, there are exceptions. Current President Benigno Simeon Aquino III continued negotiations with the MILF that had experienced both momentum and setbacks during the Macapagal-Arroyo regime. From this, Aquino reaped praise in the signing of the celebrated Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) fulfills the agreements between the government and the MILF on economic and governance issues by building a robust Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in place of the ARMM. The BBL’s survival and final form are to be determined by the Philippine Congress. Watering down the bill, however, may make the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region indistinguishable from the ARMM, which Aquino called a “failed experiment”. Poised to be enacted in 2015, the BBL has been held hostage in Congress as the Aquino administration runs out of time.

Based on the April 24 debate among 5 presidential candidates on their plan for Mindanao, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Dutuerte and former interior secretary Mar Roxas explicitly said that they will pass the BBL, while Senator Grace Poe promised to pursue “peace talks with all sides”. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago talked about dismantling private armies and strengthening customary law through the observance of Sharia, while Vice President Jejomar Binay underscored poverty as the root cause of conflict in Mindanao.

Historical injustice 

What form could the BBL take under the next administration? Defensor-Santiago seemed to be talking only about peace, while Binay seemed to be talking only about development in Mindanao. Dutuerte, Poe, and Roxas all alluded to both peace and development in the area. Roxas, the Liberal Party candidate backed by Aquino, vowed to continue Aquino’s support for the BBL.

For many, Roxas means the status quo, and that may not be a good thing for Mindanao. Dutuerte, the only candidate from Mindanao, expressed that historical injustice against the Muslim indigenous peoples must be corrected and gave unequivocal support for the BBL. Whether wittingly alluding to initial criticisms of the BBL or not, Poe strikingly suggests that a more gender-aware and inclusive talks could be in place. Poe was also the lone candidate who talked about addressing the terrorist threat.

The election outcomes are crucial to Mindanao. Decades of neglect, violence,  and impunity in Mindanao have widened inequality in the country, spurring a loathing for imperial Manila. To a certain extent, the campaign period forced both candidates and voters to consider the plight of the poorest and most marginalized in the Philippines. The poor, who has the most at stake, think and talk back with their votes.

Whether politicians can make good on their promises or voters are willing to hold them accountable beyond elections is another matter. Amidst the Comelec security breach and the recent market jitters, those of us voting on May 9 may ask, what difference does our vote make to farmers and the internally displaced in Mindanao? –

Teresa Jopson is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University. Her work focuses on internal displacement, shifting masculinities and comprehensive peace in Mindanao, Southern Philippines.

A version of this article was first published at New Mandala, the leading website on Southeast Asia and based at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.