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GOVERNMENT and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday signed a landmark agreement on Thursday, paving the way for the creation of a new, unique, and in some ways controversial political subsystem in the country that many hope would put an end to almost four decades of fighting in the Southern Philippines.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called the agreement “a momentous act of courage” by both the government and the MILF rebels. Razak graced the signing of the agreement in Malacanang Thursday afternoon, since Malaysia has taken a very active role as an intermediary for the two sides.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro provides for the creation of the only parliamentary substate in a country that has always had a presidential form of government. The BangsaMoro would take the place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an earlier political experiment on Moro self rule that has been branded by both the government and the Moro rebels as a failed experiment.

MILF leaders, commanders, warriors, and their civil society supporters trooped to Malacanang Palace on Thursday for the signing of the agreement. In exchange for major political and economic concessions to the envisioned territory, the MILF has vowed to lay down their arms and work with the national government in governing the Bangsamoro territory.

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The signing of the landmark agreement however takes place under the shadow of the failed implementation of the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the original Moro group from which the MILF broke away in 1979.

Misuari’s MNLF had also entered into a peace agreement with the government in exchange for control of the ARMM. Misuari signed the peace agreement with the government of then President Fidel Ramnos on September 2, 1996, in the same Palace compound where the MILF now signs its peace agreement with the Aquino government.

However, Misuari’s group would later lose control of the ARMM, and Misuari opted to take up arms again against the government.


Presidential Adviser for Peace Ging Deles speaks during the CAB signing

MNLF rebels loyal to Misuari laid siege to Zamboanga City late last year, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 people. The siege was later crushed by government after three weeks, although the effect of the MNLF’s actions continue to cast a cloud over the MILF peace process. The MNLF calls the MILF peace deal a betrayal of the promises of the government to the original group.

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The MILF’s Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro provides for the creation of a Bangsamoro substate that is parliamentary in nature. The head of the Bangsamoro would be a chief minister, who is elected by members of the Bangsamoro Parliament. The chief minister will also have his deputy chief minister and members of his cabinet, all from the Bangsamoro Parliament.

Under this unique setup, negotiators hope that the leaders of the Bangsamoro would be better insulated from national politics and the practices of national patronage. Previous governors of the ARMM have been accused of currying more to the wishes of Manila than of the Southern Philippines.


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak: Momentous courage

The Bangsamoro however remains firmly within Philippine jurisdiction, and is still bound by the Philippine Constitution. The national government continues to exercise reserved powers for defense, external security, foreign policy, citizenship, immigration and naturalization, customs, and global trade.

The Bangsamoro agreement also provides for an enhanced wealth sharing agreement that would hopefully empower the new substate with resources to lift the region from poverty.

Under the agreement, the wealth sharing is as follows:

  • For national taxes collected within the Bangsamoro, the Bangsamoro retains 75 percent, and the national government gets 25 percent. The present sharing system gives the ARMM a 70 percent share.
  • On revenues from the exploitation of national resources, 100 percent is retained by the Bangsamoro for non-metallic minerals.
  • For metallic minerals, the sharing is 75-25 in favor of the Bangsamoro
  • For fossil fuels, the sharing is 50-50.
  • As well, the Bangsamoro retains all the powers over taxes and revenue generation that have already been devolved to the ARMM.

Lastly, the agreement provides for a block grant by the national government to the Bangsamoro, to free it from the annual budget process negotiations. The amount of the block grant is still to be set by Congress.

The agreement also provides for normalization, and the demobilization of MILF fighters.


Murad: Warrior to peacemaker

Under the agreement, the Bangsamoro should have its own police force to enforce national and local laws. However, joint security mechanisms will also be put in place to smoothen the transition for all the security forces concerned. There will be a joint peace and security committee, as well as joint peace and security teams composed of units from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the MILF.

The government also commits to providing socioeconomic development programs for both rebel fighters and their families.

Interestingly, the agreement provides that both the government and the MILF would disband private armed groups in the Bangsamoro territory.

Government is also committed to undertake steps for the provision of amnesty, pardon, and other processes for the resolution of cases “of persons charged with or convicted of crimes and offenses connected to the conflict.”

With the signing of the CAB, the spotlight shifts to Congress as it hammers out a Basic Law that would create the Bangsamoro along the lines of the comprehensive agreement. The government is banking on the popularity of the Aquino administration to get the main points of the CAB through Congress without a hitch.

However, before the Bangsamoro can be created, the issue must be ratified in a plebiscite over the five provinces that now comprise the ARMM. Only then would the Bangsamoro substate come into existence.

This would then be followed by local elections for the 50 parliamentarians who will make up the Bangsamoro Parliament. The Parliamentarians will be composed of district and party-list representatives.

The Parliamentarians will then choose the Chief Minister from among themselves. Historically, regional and provincial governors have always been chosen by popular vote among the constituents.

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