Delivering on the Bangsamoro Organic Law
In my recent conversation with Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, on his plans in the wake of the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), I sensed both relief and trepidation.
Relief, in that the BOL, while falling short of the expectations articulated in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, does respond to the struggle for justice and identity his people have waged through force of arms and dialogue over decades. If ratified through plebiscite, the law hands to the Moro people the reins of government, control over resources and authority to dispense justice wrapped in their distinct cultural and religious identity. It is a far greater level of autonomy and recognition of identity than the ARMM ever enjoyed.
The trepidation may come from the weight of responsibility that now falls on his shoulders. The MILF collectively must make a rapid transition from combatants to politicians and administrators. They may be veterans of combat, but are novices in governance. I use the term governance instead of government intentionally, for the vision they will articulate and the principles they will adopt in governing will be as important as their capabilities for administration.
The vision and principles will need to address issues that compelled Murad to walk away from his engineering studies to, as he put it, engineer a revolution. Those issues revolve around the deprivation of opportunity and identity. As the vanguard for all those that inhabit the soon to be Bangsamoro region — not just the Maguindanaoans and Muslims — the MILF will need to be inclusive, and act with integrity and competence. The signals they send and the choices they make will be critically important.
As an immediate priority, the provision of vital civil services will have to be dramatically improved. The stakes are inordinately high. They will inherit a region that is the poorest in the country, with a Human Development Index 60 percentage points lower than the National Capital Region. Life expectancy lags by 19 percent. Mean years of schooling is 27 percent less. Per capita purchasing power is 40 percent lower. These indicators are more akin to some of the poorest African states, not those of a dynamic Southeast Asian country.
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority, and eventually the elected government, will have to develop a new civil service, and indeed a new plan for improved governance and economic revitalization, that fully matches Moro aspirations. However, the process of the transition from the ARMM to Bangsamoro will also be important. A precipitous move to entirely reconstitute the ARMM civil service could disrupt vital functions, and also alienate a significant constituency: The ARMM employs approximately 35,000 nurses, teachers, firefighters and public officials.
The success of the transition will also affect a vital and growing national security concern. Repeated cycles of local violence and unaddressed grievances have provided many of the “push” factors behind violent extremism. Decades of poor local governance must be comprehensively tackled to achieve lasting peace and stability, not just for the Bangsamoro region but across the country.
There are those outside of the Bangsamoro who will want to declare failure at the first opportunity. They will readily point out that affiliation to family and clan will never be able to be set aside for a system based on merit. They will say that, with the struggle against a common enemy now over, Moro leaders will turn to internecine conflict and attempt to control resources for personal benefit.
In one sense, international experience of conflict transitions may give credence to that view. Peace agreements and lasting peace and development do not always go hand in hand. The unfortunate reality in many parts of the world is that countries have to endure repeated cycles of violence, because conflicts are rarely one-off events. Successful transitions from fragility to stability are decades in the making. They are continually subject to the eddies and headwinds of a volatile environment. Even the fastest-transforming countries have taken between 15-30 years to transition from fragility to stability. Transforming a region that, for generations, has been entrenched in patronage, corruption and self-interest may take considerably longer.
Murad, in speaking to his people recently, reflected that much blood had been spilled to fulfill their dreams and aspirations. He hoped that their fight had not been in vain, and that future generations could now live in peace and brotherhood. He wanted to honor their sacrifices by delivering a better tomorrow.
The national government, having been a reliable peace partner for many years, will now have to equally reliably accompany the transition, and play its part, too. The success of the Moros will be success for all Filipinos.
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Titon Mitra is country director of the UN Development Programme in the Philippines.
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