Since the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935 under the leadership of President Manuel L. Quezon, the country has adopted the unitary or presidential system of government. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's strong pronouncements on the nationwide shift towards federalism have mostly been met with thunderous applause, approval, and yearning for more comprehension on what federalism would entail. Thus, rather than take the public's concurrence for granted, a group of young Moros took it upon themselves to jumpstart community-wide engagement and dialogue on the matter.
In a recent visit to Iligan City - roughly an hour away from their hometown of Marawi City - members of the Coalition of Moro Youth Movements, Inc. (CMYM) took time to discuss the group's plan of action in light of the Duterte administration's two-pronged approach to the decades-old Moro rebellion in Mindanao: implementation of all signed peace agreements parallel to the proposed nationwide shift towards federalism. This government believes that the rebellion is continuously being fueled by historical injustice and the continued search for self-determination of our Moro brothers and sisters.
The group first made headlines last year after having collected 500,000 signatures from different parts of Mindanao in support of the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) after only three months and despite having only 100 youth volunteers. "We felt very frustrated because we were repeatedly assured by the Aquino administration that the Bangsamoro Government would be established under his watch," said CMYM Chairperson Marjanie Salic Mimbantas Macasalong, recalling the non-passage of the BBL last February when the 16th Congress expired.
CMYM submitting to former House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon the more than half-million signatures they've collected and verified
The proposed enabling law - the BBL that CMYM supported and fought for - is now dead. It is actually a testament to the GPH's (Government of the Philippines) and the MILF's (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) commitment to peace and the strength of the various ceasefire mechanisms in place that war did not break out. Recalling what happened in 2008 when the Supreme Court of the Philippines declared the GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA AD) unconstitutional, the current state of relative peace in the land could rightly be considered a minor miracle.
Far from being discouraged, Macasalong explained how they channeled their frustration into something positive and productive. "The immediate action we did was to console the people on the ground. Although we were also frustrated, we reminded everyone that it is not yet the end of the world. We appeal to them to give the new coming administration a chance to implement the Agreement."
Macasalong was referring to the 2014 peace accord Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) - a product of more than 17 years of negotiations between the GPH and the MILF - which remains in place and binding. "We conducted a series of meetings within our links and networks to convince people in their own areas and organization to wait for the next administration and the 17th Congress," he explained.
Duterte's assumption into the presidency last May 2016 would ultimately prove that the group's resolve and faith have not been misplaced. During his inaugural speech at the MalacaAan Palace on 30 June 2016, the President minced no words in providing direction on the future of the peace process. "[M]y administration is committed to implement all signed peace agreements in step with constitutional and legal reforms," Duterte announced, with the said reforms alluding to his support for a nationwide shift toward federalism.
In support of the first Mindanaoan president
President Rodrigo R. Duterte during his first SONA
It would be remembered that independent polling organization Pulse Asia has released the results of a survey showing that 91% or nearly all Filipinos trust President Duterte. The same study showed that 97% of the respondents residing in Mindanao trust the first President of the Republic to hail from the same place as them. Social Weather Stations (SWS), a similar organization to Pulse Asia, also released its own survey showing that Duterte gained 84% trust rating across the country.
Macasalong shared that similar to the majority of the Bangsamoro, he was both delighted and hopeful when Duterte won the presidency. Macasalong stated that among all the candidates, it was Duterte who best understood the centuries-old peace and security problem in Mindanao.
"Beyond words, the Bangsamoro people as a whole were very elated. In fact, even before he won, the Bangsamoro People already declared their support for his candidacy because of his statements that clearly show his unbiased understanding of the grievances of the Moros," the CMYM chairperson shared.
Asked what these statements were, Macasalong specified, "When he (Duterte) said that the problem in Mindanao would never be solved without first correcting the historical injustices committed against the Moros. That alone was more than enough to convince us that he is serious in finding lasting peace in Mindanao."
"After he won and again declared his determination to solve the Bangsamoro Question, we dared to dream that the Bangsamoro Government would finally be established during Duterte's administration. We just hope and pray that this euphoria will not be in vain at the end of his term," Macasalong said.
Federalism and a more inclusive road map to peace
One week before his SONA, President Duterte approved in its entirety the peace formula forwarded by Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Jesus G. Dureza, which will address the Bangsamoro issue, the impending resumption of peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF), and the implementation of closure agreements with other rebel groups in the country.
During his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 25 July 2016, President Duterte elaborated further on how federalism complements the CAB, even the BBL, and vice-versa. "Iyong BBL, ibigay na natin (Let us give them the BBL) minus the things that you do not want, such as the Constitutional issues. Tanggalin muna natin (Let us remove them first). Ibigay na natin at when the federal system comes, isali mo na sa package (Let us give it to them and when the federal system comes, we'll then include the constitutional issues in the package)," said the President, addressing directly the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Specific to the Bangsamoro peace process is the operationalization of a mechanism where an all-Moro body will be tasked to draft anew a more inclusive proposed enabling law to be filed with Congress, in lieu of the so-called BBL. The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) - the body that drafted the original BBL -- will be reconstituted with representation coming from the MILF; the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); the sultanates; the indigenous peoples; the local government units (LGUs); and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) among other Bangsamoro representatives.
Macasalong commented that their group is supportive of this new, more inclusive road map. "I think it is a positive move to include other groups, sectors, and stakeholders in Mindanao. Even the MILF has said many times that they do not claim ownership of the Bangsamoro Government. It is for all, regardless of religious belief."
The leader of the CMYM also expressed confidence that "the grievances of the Moros would be addressed properly through federalism".
"It is said many times that the reason why the BBL would not be approved is because of constitutional issues. When we shift to federalism, I think the main idea of decentralization of power will be put into the new constitution. After all, what the Bangsamoro people have been fighting for is to exercise their right for self-determination; and that will be more possible when we have the system of federalism."
Educating for peace
CMYM conducting a study group on the CAB and federalism
When it became clear that the way forward under President Duterte is through federalism, CMYM embarked on a new mission to help the government educate the public on federalism. Similar to their self-funded endeavor to gather more than half-million signatures for the BBL, the education drive for federalism is purely volunteer-based.
"Now, we are focused on seminars and advocacies that explain the concept of federalism as a whole in relation to the CAB and the BBL. This includes discussion, study, and research on the CAB and the BBL as a model or template for federalism. We are also identifying provisions that are non-negotiable to the MILF, and possibly come up with ideas that will become alternative solutions," shared Macasalong, pointing out that they are willing to share their findings and input if the MILF or the government needs them.
He also added that unlike before, they are open to collaborating or receiving assistance if it would mean that the community dialogues they started would be widened in scope. "We are planning to include barangay level, school-based, and community-based seminars and advocacies. This is to make sure that not only those in urban areas understand the concept of federalism and the CAB, but also those in the rural areas."
With regard the more than half-million signatures they've previously collected and verified, the group feels that those should be enough manifestation of wide support from the Moros especially the youth. "As of now, we are considering the idea that we should submit these signatures to the new administration. What constrains us a bit is our connection to the new administration. We have not yet established contacts with the officials of the Duterte's administration," Macasalong said.
Regardless of what happens in the future, it is clear to Macasalong and the CMYM why they are offering their time, resources, and strength for this particular advocacy. "The benefit is for all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For instance, foreign direct investments will certainly increase when we have peace on the ground. Our economy will become good and stable."
"We reiterate to the Filipino people that our clamor for peace is not only for Mindanao and Mindanaoans We try our very best to communicate with the non-Muslims because we believe that when they understand that the peace that we clamor for is not only for the Muslims, but for the whole Filipino people, they would support the measure."
Source: Philippine Information Agency