26 February 2016
International Alert welcomes the commitment by the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to sustain the peace process despite the non-passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) during the current Congress.
The BBL is considered a key piece of legislation in the peace process in the Muslim Mindanao region in the southern Philippines. It would establish a new autonomous political entity known as the 'Bangsamoro' – which comes from ‘bangsa’, meaning nation, and ‘Moro’, the preferred way Muslim Filipinos refer to themselves. The BBL would also provide a basic structure of government and enact agreements set forth in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), signed in 2014.>
As the government and MILF contemplate their next moves, we urge them to take the opportunity to open up dialogue with groups that felt excluded from the drafting of the CAB, which formed the basis of the BBL, and the BBL itself. We also encourage them to meet with legislators, especially those who opposed the BBL, as they will scrutinise the bill when it is refiled during the next Congress, following the general election in May this year.
As we await a new government and for the next Congress to be constituted, let us stress the importance of sustaining the development of Muslim Mindanao. With or without a new law, livelihoods must be created. This is especially urgent in the wake of the frustration felt over the BBL’s non-approval and rising radicalism among Moro youth in Mindanao.
Data shows that despite higher investments by the government of President Benigno Aquino III, economic growth of the provinces comprising the future Bangsamoro remain among the slowest, and their poverty incidence among the highest, in the country. In its remaining months in office, the Aquino government must continue to provide much-needed funds for economic development in the region, while the incoming government must heed the region’s requirements for growth.
An equal burden for developing Muslim Mindanao, however, rests on its leaders and the private sector. We urge regional and local government officials to continue pursuing growth plans and to always prioritise the welfare of their people. In this respect, we commend regional officials’ promise to forge ahead with development plans despite the lack of a BBL and with municipal-level initiatives to draw in business investment. We also commend businesses that have chosen to set up shop in the region, despite many uncertainties.
But as disappointment over the BBL mixes with political tensions surrounding the May election, flash points are likely. Rather than blame or condemn the MILF or those who support the BBL, let us take these as our prompt to study the BBL. Because for Muslim Filipinos, it represents their best chance at self-determination, and the country’s best chance for peace in Muslim Mindanao.