News / Asia

Philippines Paves Way for Transition to Peaceful South

Government of the Philippines (GPH) chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferer (L) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal (R) sign the peace agreement between both parties with AB Ghafar Tengku Mohamed as a witness from Malays
Government of the Philippines (GPH) chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferer (L) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal (R) sign the peace agreement between both parties with AB Ghafar Tengku Mohamed as a witness from Malays
Simone Orendain
The Philippines is expected to sign a permanent peace pact soon with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group. Officials have one month to craft a measure for an autonomous region, to be called Bangsamoro, in the Muslim majority southern Philippines. The pact would end decades of fighting that has cost more than 120,000 lives. 
 
The Bangsamoro Transition Commission must submit its first draft of the proposed agreement to the Office of the President by March 31. After that, the proposal has to make its way through Congress before legislators go on summer break.
 
The whole process is on a tight schedule that needs to be completed in time for the 2016 elections.
 
“The battle has now shifted to a more constructive engagement with Congress and other branches of government to realize that what are the essential elements in those agreements would be translated into law. It’s practically a new form of engagement, which is unfamiliar to me, especially,” said Mohagher Iqbal, head of the transition commission.
 
For 40 years, Iqbal, a ranking member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fought the Philippine government for Muslims’ right to self-determination.  He became chief peace negotiator more than 10 years ago and now chairs the transition commission of former rebels, government officials and civil society that will draft the law to create a new self-governing region called “Bangsamoro.”
The proposed Bangsamoro area.The proposed Bangsamoro area.
x
The proposed Bangsamoro area.
The proposed Bangsamoro area.

The proposed measure would define Bangsamoro’s powers and structure. The new region is expected to have a parliamentary form of government with the ability to raise its own revenues and form its own law enforcement, among other powers. The central Philippines government would handle national defense, currency and postal services.
 
The next steps will be a “huge challenge,” according to Rommel Banlaoi, the executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
 
“Congress is the main battleground now because there are members of Congress who have expressed their reservations on the proposed Bangsamoro Government and at the same time there were also apprehensions on the part of other stakeholders that the agreement is giving the MILF so much power already,” said Banlaoi.
 
Banlaoi pointed to the Philippine Congress’ history of lengthy debates, which sometimes can run on for years. Furthermore, he said, some local officials also have apprehensions about losing their power base with a new structure in place.  He said another challenge is the Muslim factions opposed to the agreement that have been resorting to violence. 
 
The proposed region essentially supersedes an existing autonomous region that was formed under a 1996 pact signed by a smaller rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front.
 
The ideal scenario is for Congress to pass the agreement by the end of the year, so that residents of the proposed region can decide in a referendum in 2015 whether they want to be part of the new entity. Once its borders are defined, they will elect leaders during the 2016 national elections. That is also when Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s term ends.
 
In a speech this week, Presidential Peace Advisor Teresita Deles said the peace process has strong support, but she also highlighted some of the difficulties ahead.
 
“We expect rigid scrutiny of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress. We shall fight for the bill with utmost transparency and professionalism, and with only the national interest in mind. In this, we have the full support of the national leadership,” said Deles.
 
Rommel Banlaoi warned that in the rush to have a bill signed, some parts might be “watered down”. Iqbal said the Basic Law will be “flexible” because the fine details are supposed to be woven into legislation to be created by the new Bangsomoro parliament.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs