One of President Duterte’s key election pledges was working to use federal solutions to end the decades long Moro conflict in Mindanao that has seen armed insurgents wage war against The Philippines in attempts to create autonomous Islamic political units in parts of Mindanao.
As part of his push for wider federalism throughout The Philippines, when it comes to Moro regions of Mindanao specifically, Duterte has promised to implement a federal style local law of autonomy known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Duterte currently faces the following obstacles to implementing the BBL.
1. Getting the rival factions Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the splinter group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on broad the comprehensive agreement in a way that satisfies both groups.
2. Convincing the Congress of The Philippines to pass the BBL without hesitation.
3. Working towards integrating the BBL into a wider federal system throughout the Philippines.
Duterte who himself is from Mindanao has taken important steps to quill the Moro insurgency more than any of his contemporary predecessors. Duterte has pledged to work with both MNLF and MILF in order to secure a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement based on a federal model that will ideally be applied to all of the country by 2020. Regarding this, he stated, “I do not think that the (MNLF), (MILF) in government or in joint venture with government can go wrong. We will see to it that justice is applied everyday, that fairness is observed”.
Duterte has further stated,
“There will be no regional armed forces or police. I will not agree to that. If we are all Filipinos, why will you have your own army? My army is your army. My police is your police,” the president said. “The (MILF), they can help, they can be absorbed in the armed forces for those willing. So goes with the MNLF. But there will only be one armed forces.
…And if by 2020, we can have a new president or a Moro president for the Republic of the Philippines, the better for us. After all, that person would be a Filipino”.
This is the key to Duterte’s federal proposals for the country. When all regions and peoples in The Philippines are allowed to take responsibility and enjoy the benefits of their own autonomous economic, cultural and social management, it does not make The Philippines weaker but stronger and more peaceful.
In this sense, just as Singapore encouraged Malays, Chinese and Tamil speaking Indians to speak their own languages in their private and personal life, but speak a unifying language for public matters in order to create both strong individual identities and a strong pan-Singaporean identity, so too is Duterte’s federal model good for distinct local cultures, the Moros being just one, while also strengthening the patriotism of all such cultures who all comprise the Filipino nation. In a further example of outreach to insurgents, Duterte also reached out to the far-left terrorist group NPA saying that eventually this fight too will end, emphasising that reconciliation is the in interests of both the Maoist fighters and the government.
I personally have more faith in Duterte being able to reach an accord with both MNLF and MILF than I do in respect of Duterte convincing a selfish Congress to rapidly pass the BBL. While Duterte strives for internal peace and fairness at home and good trade deals, security deals and respect abroad, many in the Philippine congress want to do anything they can to obstruct Duterte’s policy making for their own material and political benefit.
Duterte must work to overcome this hurdle, but the fact that the Congress in Quezon City is more of a detriment to internal peace than Moro groups in Mindanao, is proof positive that in addition to pursuing and implementing federalism for the entire country, Duterte must also work to transform the country into a parliamentary system wherein obstructionist techniques will be far less effective when advanced against a strong and popular leader.