After decades of struggle, Muslim Mindanao will finally have the autonomy that it’s been fighting for under the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The government and Muslim Filipinos finally reached a consensus that initiates lasting peace for the conflict-riddled south. It took six administrations, but it has been worth the effort and sacrifice of thousands.
Ask many a Mindanawon, and they’ll agree that we are making unprecedented strides in the peace process. This is all thanks to the BOL, and President Duterte’s continued prioritization of the south. But despite this major achievement, a lot of Filipinos remain in the dark about this new law. What exactly is the BOL, and why is it the best solution for peace?
The True Nation of the Moros
There were several attempts in previous administrations to pass a similar measure, but no consensus was reached. The BOL is the latest iteration that was acceptable not only to the government, but to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and other stakeholders.
The main component of the new law is the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). It will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The latter was considered by most “a failure due to corruption and mismanagement.”
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region
The main difference between the old autonomous region and the new one is the political structure. Under the ARMM, the region still had a unitary form of government under the supervision of the President. The shift to the BARMM will transform it to a parliamentary-democratic system. This is closer to real autonomy and a chance for greater representation.
From a regional governor, vice governor, and a 24-member regional legislative assembly, the BARMM will move into a parliamentary-style government. Residents in the BARMM will elect 80 parliamentary members representing different parties, districts, and sectors of the region (including indigenous communities). This parliament will in turn elect a chief minister and two deputy ministers from their members.
This new system goes hand-in-hand with changes to the fiscal policy of the region. In the old system, regional government officials have to justify their funding to Congress just like agencies. This makes them dependent on the national government for their budget.
The BARMM, however, automatically gets an allocation of the annual block grant, equivalent to five percent of the net national internal revenue. In addition, the national government will allocate ₱5B to the Bangsamoro annually for a period of 10 years, which the BARMM can use to rehabilitate conflict-affected areas.
This structure gives the Bangsamoro complete autonomy in running the region as they see fit. And importantly, this follows Sharia Law and the historical and geographical identity of the Bangsamoro People.
The importance of autonomy for the Bangsamoro
Why is autonomy seen as the solution for the region? Why the ARMM, which had very close ties to the national government, not work?
The main difference is that the parliamentary-democratic system will provide representation for all aspects of Muslim society. Which, for the uninitiated, is even more fragmented than the rest of the Philippines. This includes not only the MILF and MNLF. It also includes the youth, women, and tribal, and cultural sectors of the region.
The BARMM seeks to empower local Muslim leaders to manage their affairs, combating years of neglect and oppression. This new system strengthens their political will, enabling them to play the parts they were meant to in Muslim society.
Included in the BARMM are leaders from the MILF and MNLF, which have expressed commitment to fully reintegrate into civilian life. They will form the local government and in coordination with the national government will hopefully provide lasting peace and security for the region.
Overwhelming support from Muslim Filipinos
Following the specifications of the law passed by President Duterte, the new Bangsamoro was ratified by majority vote in January 21, 2019. In the new autonomous region, the original ARMM (Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan), as well as Cotabato City and several barangays in Cotabato and Lanao del Norte all voted “yes” for inclusion in the BARMM.
This shows that the majority in the region agree to the tenets of the new Bangsamoro. If the voting results are any indication, then we can expect productive cooperation from this new system of governance.
Decommissioning of armed combatants
The key to the new Bangsamoro is the participation and endorsement of major leaders of both the MNLF and MILF. In fact, the 80-person Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), whose members were appointed by President Duterte, is headed by MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.
The BTA serves as the parliament for the BARMM heading into the 2022 elections. It is the first time that the MILF is playing an active role in governing the region. Several MNLF heads also serve in the BTA, making this new Bangsamoro an undeniable milestone for peace and security in the region.
As a gesture of full commitment and support to the peace agreement that they signed with the national government, the MILF decommissioned over 1,000 combatants from their ranks. For surrendering their firearms, they’ll receive socio-economic packages. These packages include health benefits, scholarships, as well as housing and livelihood programs to help with their re-integration into civilian life. Additionally, MILF ex-combatants are already part of the temporary joint peace and security teams in the region, which aims to abolish private armies.
The right to self-determination
However many roads have been taken, our Muslim brothers and sisters have arrived at a single destination. The BOL is the culmination of centuries of struggle. It all boils down to the fact that the new Bangsamoro has finally given Muslim Filipinos the right that they have been fighting for ever since – the right to self-determination. This enables them to finally govern themselves with full autonomy, following deeply ingrained cultural and moral laws.
With this, we hope for lasting peace, and a better and safer life for our Muslim brothers and sisters. May peace, and mercy, and blessings of Allah be upon you!