by Juliana Cano Nieto

On September 10, 2014, the government of the Philippines and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) presented before Congress the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). This 119-page document sets the legal basis for the political and financial autonomy of the Muslim region in the southern island of Mindanao. Will this law and what will follow be sufficient to achieve the sustainable peace people in this region aspire to?

Background — Following a 17-year peace negotiation, the government and the MILF signed a Framework Agreement (FA) on October 15, 2012. The parties agreed to create a new autonomous political entity, the Bangsamoro, to replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The parties signed a Comprehensive Agreement on March 27, 2014. The approval of the Basic Law will abolish the ARMM and replace it with a transition authority that will run the government until officials for the new Bangsamoro Government are elected in mid-2016.

Last year, a firefight between Muslims and settlers over disputed land left hundreds of people displaced and eight people illegally detained. A few months later, a man was shot dead by a group of illegal loggers that unlawfully entered a protected area belonging to an indigenous community. Even today, with a peace agreement signed and the Basic Law in the works, bombing and firefights continue in Mindanao, not directly related to the conflict between the MILF and the State, but stemming from historical discrimination, land conflicts, access to resources, and political disputes in the communities.

The draft of the Basic Law delineates the territory and the political system for the Bangsamoro and establishes the power sharing structure between the central government and the autonomous region. It also details the judicial system and the makeup of the security forces. Lastly, the Law includes the economic and fiscal policies that will govern the Bangsamoro.

The compromises reached on these issues at the negotiating table and built into the Basic Law by a few experts are not enough to end community violence and guarantee a lasting peace for thousands of victims and people unable to participate in the peace process from the start.

Conditions for a non-violent future

The end to violence and a truly effective transition to peace means the MILF and the government are accountable for their actions. It means that they guarantee truth, justice, and reparations for victims. It also means that these victims actively participate in the process, which has not been the case until now.

Lasting peace also requires that the MILF and the government examine and address the root causes of community-based violence. Relationships amongst the diverse communities in the Bangsamoro are broken and need mending through reconciliation. A transition to peace also needs to foster trust by the people towards the new autonomous Bangsamoro government. A key component to achieve all of the above is the existence of an effective transitional justice mechanism, which is only acknowledged in passing in the draft Law.

The government, the MILF, some civil society organizations, and the International community want the Law approved in 2015 and a plebiscite by 2016. It is naive to believe that over 20 years of violence will end in less than two years. Realizing sustainable peace and guaranteeing that history does not repeat itself exceeds the deadlines placed by the negotiation panel for the creation of the Bangsamoro. It also requires political and financial commitments that have yet to be made and that should surpass the 2016 deadline.

Check out the Draft Law here

Summary on the new political structure of the Bangsamoro
The Law states that the powers of government will be vested in the Bangsamoro Parliament. The 60-member Parliament—with only one seat specifically reserved for women—will set policies, legislate on matters within its authority, and elect a Chief Minister who shall exercise executive authority on its behalf.

The justice system for the Bangsamoro includes the expansion of Shariah law into criminal and commercial issues for Muslims only, as well as the strengthening of traditional or tribal justice system for indigenous people and alternative dispute resolution systems.

The draft law creates a Bangsamoro Police Force, which will be part of the Philippine National Police to be in charge primarily of "law enforcement and maintenance of peace and order in the Bangsamoro." The defense and security of the Bangsamoro through the military forces remains under the control of the central government.

Juliana Cano Nieto is currently volunteering with Isis International. She is a human rights activist, feminist, and wanderer.

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