What’s next for CSO involvement in the peace process?

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

NOW that the negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for a political settlement to the Moro rebellion has ended, what role should civil society organizations (CSOs) take in relation to the Mindanao peace process?

This question reverberated throughout the three-day Mindanao CSO Leaders Peace Summit held February 10–12 at The Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City organized by the Mindanao CSOs Platform for Peace (MCSOPP).

The summit sought to enhance cooperation between organizations and develop synergies among various initiatives geared at helping pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro entity by mid-2016.


The forging of an Annex on Normalization to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and an Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters last January 25 brought to a close a 17-year consensus-building exercise between the parties, punctuated by three major wars in 2000, 2003 and 2008.

For the last decade, CSOs have been a regular feature of the Mindanao peace process, helping push the parties to stay the course of negotiations, and bringing in voices of particular communities and peoples to the peace panels so that their concerns are considered in the shape up of a post-conflict political arrangement.

In the post-negotiation phase, Mindanao CSOs are rethinking their relevance and examining the areas of work to which their efforts add value.

Transition roles

"The responsibilities put on your shoulders are tremendous and with far-reaching consequences. The CSOs are indeed indispensable," said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal who also chairs the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

Iqbal outlined three major roles for CSOs to take in relation to the work of transitioning from the current autonomous arrangement to that of Bangsamoro, the entity that is invested with far greater political and economic powers in response to the Moro people's clamor for meaningful self-governance.

The first is in bringing the people "on board the peace journey." "We need the people especially the qualified voters during the deciding moment when the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be presented for ratification."

The Basic Law, which is currently being drafted by the BTC, is the charter of the Bangsamoro entity. It will be enacted by Congress into law and put to a vote by the people within the region's proposed territory.

Secondly, Iqbal expects the CSOs to help the BTC gather "important inputs from the people" so that the Basic Law is able to respond to the aspirations of the ordinary folks living within the Bangsamoro.

Thirdly, he sees the crucial work of engaging the national legislators so that the Basic Law they will enact captures the essence of the agreements of the MILF and the government.

"Let us therefore not deprive our legislators our support especially during the hours of hard decision-making. Our legislators need us and we need them, too, to ensure that we journey together for peace through to the end," Iqbal stressed.

Beyond 2016

Presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos-Deles has asked civil society groups in Mindanao to keep accompanying the peace process way beyond 2016.

"We need to dedicate ourselves beyond every milestone (in the negotiations)," Deles told some 100 delegates to the summit.

Deles, who hailed from the civil society community before joining government, said that the end to negotiations was just a beginning of another phase of the peace process – implementation.

She described that the task of building and nurturing the structures that will sustain the gains of the process will definitely go beyond the Aquino administration, hence, the need for civil society to ensure that these initiatives continue.

"We need to push on. We need to look forward," Deles emphasized.

"We've already come this far, so let us all support this peace process. The negotiations were difficult in adherence to the order of the President to learn from the lessons of the past and that everything must be within the ambit of the Constitution," Deles said.

"The important thing on the part of the government during the negotiations was that it was guided by the principle not to make promises it cannot deliver politically, economically and culturally," she added.

Help pave the way for B'moro

In a manifesto issued by the summit delegates coming from 40 organizations and networks, they vowed to "continue to commit and offer all-out support to the rollout of measures leading to the establishment of the Bangsamoro..."

These include "pushing for Congressional enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to ensuring informed consent among the people during the plebiscite to ratify it."

"We will do everything to help pave the way for the successful birth of the Bangsamoro entity by noon of June 30, 2016," the manifesto read.

If the transition roadmap and timeframe materializes, election for members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly is expected to be held within the same schedule as the general elections, that is, on May 9, 2016.

As the elected officials assume office noon of June 30, 2016, the Bangsamoro entity shall have been born.

The MCSOPP further vowed to "exhaust all possibilities to ensure" that the process of building the Bangsamoro "will be transparent, inclusive and sensitive to the legitimate interests of the peoples in Mindanao."

"A rightful and just conclusion to the Moro rebellion must also unleash a transformative process among Mindanao's grassroots communities," the MCSOPP manifesto said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 17, 2014.

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