From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 1): 2015, a productive but difficult year for the Bangsamoro peace process
According to the 1998 book, Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators, published by the Institute for Electoral Democracy and Assistance, “the overriding determinant of whether a peace agreement will endure is the extent to which the parties to the conflict continue to be motivated to avoid a return to bloodshed.”
Truly, this is the best thing about the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The two parties have not gone back to war. We remain steadfast in upholding the ceasefire and are isolating those groups that continue to foment violence. We are gradually transforming the lives of the people on the ground, nurturing their hopes and dreams for a better future. And we are so close to putting firmly in place the needed institutional reforms to realize meaningful autonomy and democracy in the Bangsamoro.
However, while the second year of implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) saw important breakthroughs in our Bangsamoro road map to peace, it is evident that it also brought us unprecedented difficulties.
Many will look back at the year 2015 and see the Mamasapano tragedy of January 25 as the monkey wrench that was thrown into the clockwork and set back most of what we have set out to do.
They are right in one sense. Congressional committee deliberations on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) gave way to about three months of televised hearings on the Mamasapano tragedy. Subsequently, hearings on the draft law were colored by the incident, leading to misrepresentations on both the content of the pending bills and on the consultative processes that had been undertaken by the peace panels and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
It cannot be denied that many of those running for high offices in the 2016 election were catapulted to the public limelight in these acrimonious congressional hearings. Such has been Mamasapano and its aftermath’s jolting effect on the public’s sensibilities and the political dynamics it generated, in light of the upcoming national elections.
But to say that we have lost the CAB and the BBL because of Mamasapano would not be quite right.
We have not let Mamasapano define the process nor its outcome. Not that we are wishing away the incident, which saw many Filipino lives lost. In fact we believe that only when all facts are fully unearthed, with those directly responsible for the debacle owning up to their mistakes, the incident put in its bigger context, and the judicial process taking its course to extract individual accountabilities from all directly involved without exception, will we find the public understanding better as to why we have persistently, even stubbornly, pursued the CAB and the BBL for the whole nation’s better interest.
What have the Bangsamoro peace process and all the people working for it accomplished in 2015?
On the legislative track:
· Although prolonged and tediously delayed, we have managed to see the respective committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives (HoR) close their committee hearings, produce their amended bills, and move on to the period of interpellation, with the HoR closing this period by the time Congress ended its last session day for 2015 on December 16. We continue to believe that both Houses can and will pass the law before it closes its session in February 2016.
· The Panel’s Manila and Cotabato offices conducted massive information and education campaigns on the CAB and the draft BBL nationwide, including photo exhibits in 33 colleges and universities, and 20 consultations and media briefings attended by the GPH Panel in Mindanao alone. With the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Peace Process Offices as co-organizers, we held two whole-day seminars with some 300 members of the regional police and AFP commands in Regions X and XI, on the Bangsamoro peace process. OPAPP’s Bangsamoro Communications Unit also organized 48 press briefings in the course of the year, among other events that it facilitated, for instance, in celebration of the National Peace Consciousness Month in September.
On the security components:
· Under the tutelage of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB), we began the ceremonial decommissioning of the combatants and weapons of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). On June 16, President Aquino and top government officials attended the registration of 145 combatants and 75 high-powered and crew-served weapons of the MILF at the Old Provincial Capitol of Maguindanao. The Secure Arms Storage Area (SASA) now houses the first batch of decommissioned weapons. The site is guarded by the Verification and Monitoring Teams (VMATs) led by Norwegian experts and supported by personnel from the GPH and the MILF. The IDB – with foreign experts from Turkey, Brunei and Norway -- subsequently conducted site visits to MILF camps/base commands as well as planning sessions in anticipation of the next phase of decommissioning, which shall commence upon the passage of the draft Bangsamoro law.
· A total of 329 members of the BIAF, AFP, and PNP who would constitute the Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPSTs) have undergone retooling and training in three separate batches this year. The first JPST batch of 30 men (15 MILF, 15 AFP/PNP) has been posted and is assisting the VMATs in guarding the SASA. Other JPSTs will be deployed in critical areas as shall be mutually agreed upon, to assist in conflict-prevention.
· The GPH’s and the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH or ceasefire committee) and the multinational International Monitoring Team (IMT) addressed 68 complaints of alleged ceasefire violations on the ground, effectively preventing outbreaks or escalation of violence. Due to the work of the ceasefire mechanism, there is only one recorded armed skirmish between GPH and MILF forces this year -- the unfortunate Mamasapano incident -- breaking a three-year record of zero hostilities between the parties. It will be remembered that the joint CCCH and the IMT’s crisis team was the first to enter the scene in Bgy. Tukanalipao, Mamasapano in order to restore the broken ceasefire and allow for the retrieval of the dead. The joint CCCH also assisted the Department of Justice, the Commission on Human Rights, the Ombudsman, and the IMT in conducting their respective investigations on the incident. The CCCH also accompanied the relatives of the late PO1 Russel Bilog, a member of the 55 SAC (55th Special Action Company) of the PNP's Special Action Force (SAF), who came all the way from the Cordillera to visit the encounter site in Mamasapano.
The CCCH and the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division also assisted in collecting the weapons seized by MILF combatants in Tukanalipao and returned through the MILF leadership as part of restoring confidence in the peace process. Some 16 weapons were retrieved and turned over to AFP and PNP officials in a press conference held at Camp Awang in Maguindanao last February 18.
· The AFP and the PNP conducted major operations in Central and Western Mindanao against the BIFF, the ASG and other violent groups, including foreigners allied with international networks like the Jemaah Islamiah. In law enforcement operations (LEOs) conducted in areas with known MILF presence, the GPH and MILF's Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) is tasked to coordinate, monitor and disseminate information among the AFP, PNP, and the MILF-BIAF.
As part of long standing security cooperation and in line with ceasefire and AHJAG protocols, the MILF cooperated in discreet ways such as in information monitoring, serving as blocking force, providing buffer zones, and assisting in key instances in the neutralization of notorious persons like Basit Usman last May.
In major AFP operations against the BIFF from February to April, the MILF pulled out its forces to avoid unwanted hostility with government forces. The AFP-PNP successfully rounded up key leaders like Ali Mohammad Tambako and cohorts in March, and neutralized some 180 men of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Security cooperation between local MILF and AFP/PNP commanders such as in Basilan have likewise led to the successful interdiction of criminal elements belonging to the ASG. Recently, ways and means to work together in battling the drug menace have been discussed through the mechanisms, in coordination with some LGU officials.
· As part of the normalization programs, the Office of the President issued Memorandum Circular No. 83 in September creating the National Task Force for the Disbandment of Private Armed Groups (NTF-DPAGs). The Task Force shall focus its operations in the proposed areas of the Bangsamoro and the adjacent Regions 9 to 12. Led by the Department of Interior and Local Governments, the NTF-DPAGs is in the process of finalizing its implementing rules and operational guidelines and drawing up an action plan. The AFP and PNP also signed the Joint AFP-PNP Memorandum Clarifying the AHJAG Protocol on Prior Coordination in May 2015 as a measure that would avoid lapses similar to the law enforcement operation against Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan conducted in Mamasapano.
On the socioeconomic components:
· The Task Force Camps Transformation (TFCT) underwent a seminar on area development in July and planned appropriate projects for the communities in the six MILF camps in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte that were previously acknowledged by government. This was followed by community consultations and technical site validation for the solar power and water systems and hanging bridges that will be put up in these areas. The TFCT also facilitated the School-based Support Program for 18 public elementary schools in the vicinity of the camps as a supplement to the Department of Education’s annual staging of the Brigada Eskwela at the beginning of the school year.
· The Joint Task Force for the Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC) was convened. With the assistance of the Department of Social Work and Development and other government agencies, several follow-up activities were held for the decommissioned combatants to ensure the delivery of the socio-economic and capability-building package to each decommissioned combatant. In September, a joint seminar with the panels, the TFCT and the TFDCC on best practices in integrated post-conflict, community-based normalization programs was held with international experts providing examples of best practices. Held in Davao, the seminar was sponsored by the World Bank.
· Launched in February 2013, Sajahatra Bangsamoro closed in November 2015, with most of its social and livelihood components in place, and with a few remaining items pending completion. As of December 2015, through the Sajahatra Bangsamoro program, some 25,000 beneficiaries were provided with Philhealth services; three of 10 barangay health stations constructed; four of 10 ambulances already distributed; two day-care centers completed and seven more in different stages of construction; more than 13,000 children benefited in 253 feeding centers upon completion of the feeding cycle; 1,025 persons graduated from TESDA’s vocational–technical courses; 1,084 students awarded with scholarships from the Commission on Higher Education in 2015; 44 madaris received assistance from the Department of Education to help standardize their teaching curriculum and improve school facilities; some 11,000 persons availed of the DSWD’s cash-for-work program; five of 10 target sites have been provided by the Department of Agriculture with farm inputs or machineries; several kilometers of farm-to-market roads and fish landings were constructed in different remote places in the region; and 800 hectares are at various planting stages under the DENR’s greening program.
On other equally important components:
· The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission led by a Swiss expert conducted 210 ‘listening process’ sessions and engaged local experts. On December 15, it completed its report to the Panels, along with recommendations on how to address the legitimate grievances, correct historical injustices, address human rights violations and marginalization in order to achieve justice and reconciliation.
· The Third Party Monitoring Team led by former EU ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald has released five quarterly reports and 14 exit letters from 2013 detailing the progress in the CAB’s implementation.
· The two parties signed various protocols in joint meetings facilitated by Malaysian Tengku Ghafar and in the presence of the International Contact Group made up of representatives from Japan, United Kingdom, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conciliation Resources, Muhammadiyah and the Community of Sant E’gidio. These documents include the Protocol on the Implementation of the ToR of the IDB (29 January 2015), the TFDCC Terms of Reference (31 May 2015), and the Second Protocol on the Implementation of the Terms of Reference for the IDB. All these documents were a product of careful thinking on how to make the mechanisms functional in order to achieve the objectives laid out in the CAB.
The parties also renewed the mandate for another year of the IMT, AHJAG and the Civilian Protection Component of the IMT.
The year 2015 was for me a series of polar opposites. Several petitions remain lodged in the Supreme Court against the FAB, the CAB and even the draft BBL. For the first time in my life, I faced lawsuits, along with scores of others involved in the negotiations.
Thankfully, the flimsy case of treason lodged against the GPH and MILF panels, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and the BTC has now been dismissed by the Manila prosecutors’ office for lack of merit, and is awaiting clearance in the Office of the Ombudsman.
As a public servant, I fell victim to malicious slurs in social media. I grappled with sexism, the occupational hazard faced by all women in public life. Although it has been said many times that one in public office must be thick-skinned, there is no reason why we should not seek to raise the ethics bar in public discourse.
At the same time, the work we have managed to achieve along the line of peace negotiations and mediation have been recognized by various local and international institutions. I have been honored with the opportunity to seat beside strong women around the world who have aimed high in order to remove once and for all the glass ceiling that has kept most women behind the men in the realm of politics. I am heartened by the fact that a lot more women are on the front lines to take part in the urgent work for community and world peace.
The goodwill, commitment and perseverance of the men and women who work with our team, my fellow-panel members: former agriculture secretary Senen Bacani, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao, as well as GPH-Joint Normalization Committee Chair Zenonida Brosas; our counterparts in the MILF team led by Chair Mohagher Iqbal, our international partners, our colleagues in the security sector of all ranks, the young and creative people in our panel secretariat and Cotabato offices, my tireless friends in civil society organizations, and the people of all faiths and hues with whom we have engaged in dialogue have been the constant source of inspiration.
As for the MILF, we continue to challenge each other to measure up to our respective accountabilities and commitments. In rising to the tasks before us, we have fortified our confidence in the process.
This is not to say that everything is perfect when in fact things are not. At the level of national politics, we need to build on the public’s trust in the process. On the ground, we face all kinds of troubles and potential sparks but are very thankful that our ceasefire mechanisms and third party monitors as well as local government officials, are able to respond and prevent further escalation of local-level tensions.
I acknowledge the wisdom and maturity of the MILF leaders for staying on the peace track despite the disappointments and challenges. Other less determined peace partners would have been less discerning, and more impulsively be shouting out war chants in view of the delays in our road map. We pray the leadership will be able to keep in line its mass members. We continue to collaborate in strengthening our joint mechanisms, and building mutual trust and confidence among and between our respective organizations.
We take heart in improving survey results that show we are recovering lost ground as to public approval on the draft law. In the prospective core territory of the Bangsamoro, the sentiment of the people is loud and clear: they want the BBL and this one big chance to leapfrog their way to peace and development in their daily lives.
We find strength in the unflinching efforts of civil society organizations, leading personalities and groups in the Christian churches, the academe, the women and peace advocates, and the diplomatic community, our supportive legislators especially the leaders of both Houses, the Cabinet and various government agencies, and certainly the President, to promote understanding of the cause, and taking action to bring forth the BBL.
Altogether, we shall continue to carry on in order to get to our destination sooner than later.