It took a while to set it up but the Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund (BNTF), a key instrument to support the peace process in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao, was finally launched on May 19, 2021.
“This has been much awaited,” said Murad Ebrahim, chief minister of the two-year-old Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), during the virtual launch. He is also the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the former separatist group that signed a final peace deal with the Philippine government in 2014.
“We take on another significant milestone that assures [everyone] that the government of the Philippines and the MILF will continue providing necessary efforts in normalizing our combatants and their respective communities,” Ebrahim said.
The BNTF is a commitment under the normalization track of the peace agreement. It is a bank account for money coming from international organizations and other donors, and managed by the World Bank.
It is intended for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of Bangsamoro communities – particularly MILF camps – to allow MILF combatants to transition to productive civilian lives.
The World Bank will coordinate and streamline resources, instead of different embassies and aid organizations, for example, launching programs separately.
“We are honored and committed to play this role,” said World Bank Country Director Ndiame Diop. He called on the international community to follow the lead of Australia and the European Union, both of which have pledged support to the trust fund.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed a special authority to create the BNTF on Dec. 3, 2020.
It replaced the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development (MTF), which previously bridged international donors to conflict-affected communities in Mindanao. The World Bank also managed the MTF and raised $28.9 million from 2006 to 2017.
The support of the international community was also critical to the success of the peace process in Mindanao.
The BNTF was launched amid growing concerns about the slow pace of the decommissioning of MILF combatants, which was due in part to funding issues. The government reported that 12,000 combatants were decommissioned by the end of 2019, or only a third of the 40,000 combatants declared by the MILF.
“It’s like a rain after a long drought,” said Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF panel implementing the peace deal and the Bangsamoro minister for education.
The political track of the peace agreement gave the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) three years to govern the region, during which the decommissioning process is also supposed to be completed.
Challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, prompted the MILF to push for the postponement of the local elections and extend the transition period for another three years.
Bills supporting the extension are pending in Congress. Last week, presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. expressed support for the extension of the BTC during a Senate committee hearing.
Whether or not the extension is granted, it is important to make sure that the decommissioning process is successful, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report published in April 2021.
“Whether that (extension) happens or not, the roadmap should remain intact. Manila needs to keep its promises to extend an economic package to decommissioned combatants as demonstration of its commitment to the peace process. The MILF needs to remain committed to decommissioning – and resist the temptation to postpone the process even if the transition period is extended,” the ICG said.
The BNTF will guarantee funding for these commitments outside of allocations from the national government.
*TOP PHOTO: File photo of MILF combatants inside Camp Darapanan training for the Joint Peace and Security Team, an armed unit that brings together members of the military, police, and MILF combatants to jointly protect locations identified in the peace agreement. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena
*The original headline, World Bank launches trust fund to normalize war-torn Bangsamoro communities, was edited.
— PCIJ, May 2021