Four weeks into his presidency, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to make public pronouncements about the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), raising concerns that it is not a priority issue for the new government.
Gus Miclat of the Initiative for International Dialogue (IID) hoped that Marcos would use his State of the Nation Address (SONA) to declare his commitment to the peace process. “I would like him to continue what is already good [and] what is working,” he told the PCIJ.
Miclat said Marcos’ silence on the peace process appears to be “a signal that he is not concerned or it’s the least of his priority.”
Benedicto Bacani of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance said it’s important for Marcos to articulate his policy on the peace process, especially because he did not articulate it during the campaign.”
“It is not enough to say that he supports the peace process,” he said.
Marcos Jr inherited the task of completing the peace process with the dominant Muslim rebel group including the appointment of 80 new members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).
The BTA will complete the codes of the now three-years old Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Bacani said the appointment of the BTA is an “immediate and critical decision” that Marcos has to make.
Bacani said Marcos will also need to define the following:
- “How he will exercise the President’s power of general supervision on the BARMM to promote inclusive peace and efficient delivery of services.”
- “Will there be greater emphasis on rule of law and the constitution or will the policy of accommodation of the rebel fronts under President Duterte continue.”
Miclat said Marcos should recognize and respect the ascendancy first of the MILF as the majority members of the parliament — until at least the transition period ends in 2025. “That is the essence of the law,” said Miclat.
There are groups that assert a different interpretation, but Miclat disagreed. “From our perspective, he cannot [appoint a parliament that will not be dominated by the MILF].” he said.
Miclat is concerned that a different interpretation would “open up a lot of problems” such as the “potential rekindling of conflict and reopening of old wounds.”
Mindanao observers are keen to see if Marcos will give the process the same commitment that President Rodrigo Duterte showed during his term, ushering in a period of relative peace in the region. Continued delays, it is feared, would push combatants to join other armed groups, which is plenty in the region.
The decommissioning of 40,000 MILF combatants has yet to be completed, too. As of May 2022, the government said less than 20,000 had been decommissioned.
The process continued to face delays due to various issues such as funding gaps to fulfill development commitments to MILF communities, confusion over the coverage of benefits to be received by the combatants, and disagreements over the number of firearms the MILF is expected to decommission.
Duterte, the country’s first president from Mindanao, spent a lot of his political will on the peace process. His support was instrumental in the success of the January 2019 plebiscite vote, which led to the creation of the now three-year old BARMM. Last year, he also succeeded in persuading Congress to postpone BARMM’s first regular elections, effectively extending the MILF-led transition period for another three years.
In the May 2022 elections, the MILF endorsed his closest rival, former Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. Bacani said this has contributed to the “air of uncertainty.”
Bacani said it remains to be seen if Marcos will “rise above politics in policy decisions on the peace process.” END
Photo by Carmela Fonbuena
— PCIJ, July 2022