The logo of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (Opapru).
The logo of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (Opapru).

PEACE has been bureaucratized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAP), now known as Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (Opapru), even when a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) is already in place. When peace is a bureaucracy, we lose the edge of negotiations and peace is entangled with the notorious maze.

The aspiration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is genuine autonomy, and this is via political and fiscal tracks. CAB is seen to have two main thrusts: the political-legislative track and the normalization track. The former includes the passage of Republic Act 11054, or the "Bangsamoro Organic Law" (BOL), the enabling statute for the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and the latter on normalization track that runs alongside and complementary to the political-legislative track.

Normalization is defined in the agreements as a process whereby conflict-affected communities can "return to conditions where they can achieve their desired quality of life, which includes the pursuit of sustainable livelihoods and political participation within a peaceful deliberative society."

Political participation essentially is also about elections while fiscal is on the block grant and the absorptive capacity of BARMM to handle a huge amount of appropriations. The extension of the interim Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to May 2025 has been postponed twice, 2019 and 2022. This is contained in Republic Act (RA) 11593 where Section 2 provided "the president may appoint the 80 new interim members of the BTA who shall serve up to June 30, 2025, or until their successors shall have been elected and qualified." The MILF will recommend to the president 41 parliament members while the government side will recommend 39 members.

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Clearly, 41 is a majority or, conversely put, the "tyranny of the majority." And by that you see how the interim BTA is moving exceedingly slow. It remains in command and control mode just like under ARMM. Chief Minister Ibrahim once said, "The call toward the extension of the new political entity speaks the desire of our people in making sure that we have a strong regional bureaucracy that can address our decades-long challenges and make sure that a brighter future awaits them — free from corruption, from manipulation, and any ills in government." What has been accomplished?

The BTA is mandated to enact the following priority legislation: Bangsamoro Administrative Code, Revenue Code, Electoral Code, Local Government Code, Education Code, Civil Service Code and the law for Indigenous peoples. They have enacted the Administrative, Civil Service and Education codes but the following laws are pending: Local Government, Electoral, Revenue and the IPs. In terms of absorptive capacity, BARMM is at 20 percent of its capacity because of the decision to remove all the 6,000 ARMM employees in 2019 instead of doing it gradually. This decision has led to extreme operational problems even up to the point where agency budgets are only debated in December and passed by December 29.

In all these, the voters of BARMM continue to suffer and lag because those who rule have not seen fit to secure a mandate from the people. Because of the extensions, there is now paralysis in BARMM, and the road map has not been achieved. No election puts autonomy at risk. Shouldn't that be the main consideration of the Marcos administration so that commitments are delivered on the part of BARMM and voters under BARMM can now elect their leaders?

Are we therefore in the season of protracted appeasement than implementing the peace agreement? The CAB was signed on March 27, 2014 with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It has been 17 years of negotiations. And from BOL (2018), it has been four years since the law was enacted. Some intimated that BARMM is a proof of concept for Asean to consider but not going through the election also smacks of opportunism or for others, ensured divisions.

The 10 general principles of RA 11054 of 2018 are clear: territorial integrity and allegiance, self-governance, democratic political system, electoral system, civilian government, promotion of unity, social justice, international treaties and agreements, rights of non-Moro Indigenous peoples, and freedom of choice.

But it is also not the fault of this administration that the leaders of BARMM chose to support a different candidate for the May 2022 elections. And that is why BARMM got stalled.

Last Friday, August 12, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. swore to office the 80 members of parliament in the BTA of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Thirty-nine appointees were by discretion of the President. It has been reported that 80 percent of the composition of MPs are from the "opposition," or because of transactional politics. One of the MPs appointed was rejected by the previous dispensation for being left. This time around she made the cut. Talk is rife again on appointments-for-a-fee, and around 19 were not re-appointed for no apparent reasons. What happens to them after three years of training under the BTA?

OPAP, created in 1993 (EO 125) is 29 years old. It was later amended in 2001 with the signing of EO 3 s 2001, reaffirming the government's commitment to achieving "just and lasting peace through a comprehensive peace process." Then by December 2021, EO 158 was signed into law, strengthening the policy framework on peace, reconciliation and unity, OPAP becoming Opapru. The rest of the peace negotiations are now with BARMM; why do we need Opapru with so many retired generals messing the transition from normalcy to block grant, including the so-called TDIF (Transitional Development Impact Fund), around P30 million to P40 million per parliament member?

RA 11054 has set into motion for mediation via the intergovernmental relations mechanisms while supervision can be lodged with the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The BOL provides for the creation of the National Government-Bangsamoro Government Intergovernmental Relations Body and other intergovernmental relations mechanisms, namely the Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum, Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board, Joint Body for the Zones of Joint Cooperation, Intergovernmental Infrastructure Development Board, Intergovernmental Energy Board, Bangsamoro Sustainable Development Board, and Council of Leaders. Why should Opapru intervene?

When we work for peace, let us do it honestly. Getting peace is a once in a lifetime act for all Filipinos. It can't just be for those who play with naked power, determining how it can be rolled out according to their whims and caprices or earnings. Lives are at stake here, and it has been so for generations.