A Bangsamoro Spring?

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is set to vote in May 11 on its public hearings’ report and endorsement to the House of Representatives plenary body of the proposed organic act to create the Bangsamoro entity that would replace the 25-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional government. The whole House in turn is scheduled to cast its verdict on May 18. From all indications, Congress will soon pass the BBL but not without some tweaking of a few provisions of the original draft as prepared by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), and after some delay caused by the intense public outcry against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the peace deal that was ignited by the Mamasapo incident.

There is so great a hope on the part of the nation as a whole but especially among majority of Muslim Filipinos and their Christian and Lumad communal neighbors in Mindanao that the BBL and its parent Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) will bring lasting and real peace and consequent socio-economic benefits to be enjoyed by them all. Yet even the National Peace Council, which Pres. Aquino created just over a month ago to conduct deep and wide consultation among the publics of the BBL to overcome the millstone effects of Mamasapano, has in its report cautioned that the basic law will not be a silver bullet, would not deliver instant and total peace. “There is no silver bullet that will erase all sources of violence,” said former Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus, a member of the council. “There is no magic vaccine that will inoculate the country from problems of future misgovernance by corrupt and incompetent leaders,” a news report quoted him as saying in the council’s briefing to the Senate. That warning could have only come from an observation of the nation’s current governance and political conditions and, in particular, the experience of previous Mindanao peace deals especially the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

Alongside NPC’s report is the report of the Social Weather Station (SWS) on the “Filipino Public Opinion on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Mamasapano Incident” that was commissioned by The Asia Foundation. Now being released to the public in bits, one of the findings is that an overwhelming majority of the autonomous region’s adult residents are optimistic about BBL’s peace and development prospects, although the nation as a whole is only 37 percent as hopeful. How will that reading sit and synthesize with these other findings: nationwide trust in the MILF is negative 61-percent (16% much trust/61% little trust/19% undecided); public approval/disapproval/undecided of BBL nationwide is respectively 23-48-28 or negative 24% while in the ARMM-core area the approval rating ranges from a low positive of +18 (Sulu) to a high of +80 (Maguindanao, MILF’s stronghold) with Basilan’s, Lanao del Sur’s and Tawi-Tawi’s falling in-between;

Of ambivalent importance is the ”sincerity” factor: 58% nationwide believe the government is sincere on fulfilling the provisions of its peace agreement with the MILF, while only 28% believe the MILF will deliver its part; but, in Mindanao the government – to – MILF sincerity rating ranges from Sulu’s lowest (45% – to – 49%) to Cotabato’s highest (86%- to – 99%).

In somewhat sum then, despite the high nationwide mistrust for the MILF, the people highly prefer a peaceful approach to resolve the Mindanao problem and to put their money on the government-MILF peace deal. Perhaps, the one good effect of the Mamasapano tragedy is that it opened the eyes of people to the total futility – and ultimate injustice – of armed violence from wherever side it comes from (like those that’s been raging for years in the Middle East).

But, wait. While the peace council has said the BBL is not a silver bullet and warned that it will not mean instant and total peace, what can the MILF promise or do to make BBL a much better, more effective project than the FPA and other past autonomy initiatives? Until now the MILF has remained somewhat a mystery as an organization and has argued that it is “revolutionary” and therefore aloof and above the current peace process fray. That there are Moro factions that oppose it means that the mistrust is not of the general society alone but also internal among organic Bangsamoro communities. Would not its coming out from behind its bamboo curtain at this stage of the peace process foster a spirit of Bangsamoro glasnost and “Moro Spring” among the different Moro groupings, bring about a better peace and sooner, too? The clamor for inclusivity and security for all Bangsamoro peoples can probably not be fulfilled from above or from law-making alone but from reformist action or activism from the grassroots. That the MILF has created a political party to open opportunities to all Moros to participate in that democratic yet uniquely Moro struggle offers real hope for peace and all its promises. (ZABIDA)

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