Senator Francis Tolentino said that the Senate will ensure that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) gets all the resources it needs as it goes through the crucial transition phase.
The implementation of Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the ongoing transition of BARMM remains on track amidst the challenges being faced by the national and Bangsamoro governments.
Tolentino, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, underscored Senate’s commitment to help uplift the lives of the Bangsamoro people, and unleash the full economic potential of the region.
The committee conducted a public hearing on Tuesday, March 10, to raise key issues regarding the BOL’s implementation and solicit recommendations from stakeholders on how to best address them.
“The mandate of the new Bangsamoro government is that we shall always be cooperative and collaborative with all endeavors to pursue good governance and ultimately development,” said lawyer Ali Pangalian Balindong, speaker of the BARMM Parliament during Tuesday’s hearing called for by the Senate Committee on Local Government.
At the hearing, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. highlighted the efforts being undertaken by the national and Bangsamoro sides to further strengthen relations between both two parties.
Tolentino said “the purpose of the committee hearing is really for the (Senate) to be of assistance in so far as making sure that the baby steps are correct and in the right direction.”
“We are assisting in the baby steps but we would want to ensure that these would be translated into successful adult strides because the success of BARMM is the success of the Philippines,” he said.
Naguib G. Sinarimbo, BARMM’s Minister of the Interior and Local Government, who provided updates on the status of the BOL and BARMM during the hearing, emphasized that “the transition in the Bangsamoro is a complex one.”
“It is not just a transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to BARMM but a transition of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to governance,” he said.
“What is important to remember is we are also building institutions and strengthening the institutions,” Sinarimbo pointed out.
At the present, the parliamentary-form BARMM is being run majority by the leadership of the MILF as part of its peace agreement with the government signed in 2014.
Responding to queries on the status of the BOL’s implementation, Galvez highlighted the efforts being undertaken by the national and Bangsamoro sides to further strengthen relations between both two parties.
“There may be challenges along the way but it’s natural as we transform the region. What I am seeing here is the dedication and commitment of local stakeholders, including the foreign donor community, to create the conditions wherein the Bangsamoro people can build a better and brighter future,” Galvez said at the sidelines of the hearing.
“One thing is very clear in this hearing and that is, the entire process is still on track despite the challenges. It remains true to the spirit of the peace agreement that the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed six years ago,” he noted.
Galvez expressed optimism that “with the mechanisms that are now being put in place, we can surmount all of the challenges we are facing.”
Socioeconomic assistance: A shared responsibility
He, however, clarified that the provision of socioeconomic assistance for the decommissioned combatants “is a shared responsibility of the national and Bangsamoro governments.”
“They (combatants) should understand that the government also has limitations in terms of funding, and has to balance this concern with the equally important fund requirements of other emergency programs,” Galvez said, adding, “Rest assured that the government will fulfill its promise to change the lives of the Moro people through inclusive development.”
Senator Francis N. Tolentino (center) underscores the Senate’s commitment to help uplift the lives of the Bangsamoro people during the Senate public hearing on peace process on Tuesday (March 10, 2020). Senators Imee Marcos and Ronald dela Rosa attended the hearing. (Photo courtesy of OPAPP)
Last year, the government has earmarked PHP2 billion for the Normalization Program in which the combatants, their families and communities will receive comprehensive socio-economic packages which include social protection, sustainable livelihood programs, capacity-building training, health benefits and educational assistance.
Through these interventions, it is envisioned that the ex-fighters will be able to return to mainstream society, and the six government-acknowledged MILF camps and communities will be transformed into peaceful, productive and resilient communities.
Under the ongoing second phase of decommissioning process, at least 30 percent or 12,000 combatants will be decommissioned and their weapons put beyond use. Another 35 percent of the MILF forces will undergo the same procedure next year, while the rest will undergo the process until 2022 in time for the Exit Agreement between the government and the MILF.
IGRB: Creating greater synergy in the BARMM
According to the government’s chief peace negotiator, the Department of Finance, through the Intergovernmental Relations Body (IGRB), is laying the groundwork for the establishment of policies and mechanisms that would capacitate the BARMM.
“Secretary Dominguez (who is the co-chair of the IGRB) is the one really pursuing the capacitation of the BARMM in terms of financial management. There were also informal meetings held regarding the creation of seven intergovernmental bodies, and on March 20, we will make sure that these will be organized” Galvez told the Senators.
The IGRB serves as the official platform that would allow the national and Bangsamoro governments to “resolve issues brought before it [IGRB] and facilitate the creation of other intergovernmental relations bodies”.
These intergovernmental to be created include the following: (1) Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum; (2) Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board; (3) Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation; (4) Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board; (5) Intergovernmental Energy Board; (6) Bangsamoro Sustainable Board; and (7) Council of Leaders.
Galvez said the issues raised by the local chief executives during the hearing will be tackled in the scheduled meeting of the IGRB.
The establishment of the IGRB is provided for in Article IV of the BOL. The body is co-chaired by Domiguez for the national government side and BARMM Minister of Finance Mohagher Iqbal for the Bangsamoro side.
Crucial codes for BARMM
To ensure the smooth and effective operations of the BARMM, Maguindanao First District Rep. Datu Roonie Sr. Q. Sinsuat urged the BTA to prioritize the drafting and passage of the region’s administrative, local government, civil service and education codes.
“These regional codes will directly facilitate the establishment of mechanisms for better governance of the BARMM and its constituents,” Sinsuat said.
He stressed that the BARMM needs “the support of the national government and the Filipino people to be able to succeed this gargantuan task to finally bring peace and progress to the Bangsamoro.”
BARMM Speaker Pangalian Balindong said the BTA is expected to pass the crucial codes in their succeeding sessions.
“Hopefully the drafts (of the codes) will be completed and submitted to parliament for deliberation and approval,” he said. “We expect to approve administrative code this month or early next month.”
Peacekeeping forces in the Bangsamoro
Meanwhile, Galvez highlighted the ongoing training being participated in by Moro Islamic Liberation Front-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF), which will qualify them to be part of the Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPSTs).
“The 6th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other training camps of the armed forces are already ready for these [JPST] trainings,” he said.
The JPSTs are composed of representatives from the AFP, Philippine National Police (PNP), and MILF-BIAF. They will serve as peacekeeping forces as the decommissioning process is carried out, and secure the safety of communities in the BARMM.
Senator Ronald de la Rosa lauded the impressive performance of the MILF members of the JPST, saying “It was reported to me that the MILF component of the JPST are snappy and exceed the performance of the AFP and PNP contingents.”
In August 2019, 219 MILF combatants completed their basic military training which is a requirement for JPST membership. In November last year, the second batch of JPST underwent the same training.
Galvez said they are eyeing members of the MILF who underwent the JPST trainings to be part of the AFP and PNP.
Commitment of support from int’l donor community
Representatives from the international donor community who were invited as resource persons during the Senate hearing reaffirmed their continued support to the Bangsamoro peace process.
European Union (EU) Deputy Head of Delegation Thomas Wiersing noted the EU has been one of the “biggest foreign development partners to provide support to Mindanao and the peace process involving the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Philippines.”
“The ratification of the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region constitutes a major step. The EU is pleased to note the progress being made in the Bangsamoro Peace Process,” Wiersing said.
He also bared the EU’s upcoming initiatives to be implemented in the BARMM which includes the Peace and Development in the BARMM (PDBARMM) with a funding cost of 25 million Euros (around PHP1.42 billion), and the Support to Bangsamoro Transition (SUBATRA) with a program cost of 25 million Euros.
Wiersing explained that both programs are designed to address pressing issues that may arise during the BARMM’s transition period and beyond.
On the other hand, Ambassador of Turkey to the Philippines Artemiz Sumer said her government shall continue to carry out socioeconomic interventions that will help sustain the gains of peace in the BARMM.
“We aim to continue contributing with the socioeconomic development of BARMM via the Turkish International Development Agency…[We] would like to continue to support the transition process with this socio-economic development aid projects, in close coordination of course with relevant Philippine authorities,” Sumer said.
For his part, Embassy of Japan Deputy Chief of Mission Minister Yasushi Yamamoto commended the Philippine government for throwing its full support behind the BARMM as it makes the transition, as well as for the effective implementation of the Normalization Program.
“We also recognize how the Philippine government carries out strong support to the BTA. We highly appreciate the implementation of the normalization process including the decommissioning of combatants and livelihood programs for decommissioned combatants and communities,” Yamamoto said. “We will walk together with the Philippine Government and the Bangsamoro Government for lasting peace and development in the Bangsamoro.”
Meanwhile, British Embassy Chargé d’affaires Alistair Totty shared that his government over the years has been working with the Bangsamoro Region and the BTA to “understand from them what’s the most useful thing the British Government can do to support this process in coordination with our fellow donors and the national government.”
Totty also discussed specific areas where they can provide support to the region, which include programs to capacitate the BTA, as well as empower and educate civil society organizations. The British Government’s financial assistance for the BARMM will amount to 3 million pounds, he said. (OPAPP-PR)