The Philippine Congress has passed the long awaited Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which will give Moro communities (Philippine Muslims) in Mindanao and nearby islands political autonomy. The new law which President Rodrigo Duterte had promised to deliver irrespective of the success of his plans to turn The Philippines into a federal republic, looks to end decades of conflict between Moro insurgents and Philippine authorities. In a sign that Duterte intends to implement the BBL as soon as possible, he certified the legislation as “urgent” in what amounts to a stern message to any obstructionist law makers.
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 promised to implement a federal style local law of autonomy known in the form of BBL. Duterte has been working directly with Moro leaders to help attain the cooperation necessary to convince an at times reluctant political class in Manila to back the reforms. There have been several major obstacles to BBL throughout the course of Duterte’s push to bring peace through autonomy to Moro regions. Some of the main obstacles included:
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”.
Prior to the BBL’s passage, Duterte 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 (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.
In many ways, Duterte’s biggest challenge in respect of passing the BBL was overcoming Congressional opposition as Duterte’s sincerity and personal familiarity with his home island of Mindinao created an atmosphere of trust between the President and Moro leaders that did not exist during previous presidential administrations.
Through securing this trust, Duterte has managed to convince all major Moro groups to embrace the peace process by staking his presidency on his ability to bring peace to Moro regions, while also convincing moderate Moro leaders to aid the Philippine armed forces in a mutual battle against extremist groups which have infiltrated Moro regions, including those loyal to the international terrorist organisations al-Qaeda and Daesh (aka ISIS).
In delivering the BBL, Duterte has proved yet again that his tough, unwavering stance on delivering his election promises, has ultimately been in the service of peace. This is true whether this means peaceful streets free of narco-bandits, a peaceful relationship with China or a peaceful settlement to the decades long conflict with both Moro insurgents and the NPA.
The passage of the BBL represents a major leap forward in the peace process that many prior Philippine leaders tried to cement but which Duterte has managed to achieve through his persistence, his ability to communicate with all sides in the dispute and his ability to demonstrate that a better life for all Filipinos is far more important than any personal matters of ego or personal enrichment. This victory is as much Duterte’s as it is a victory for the country as a whole.