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).

THIS is in response to the column by Ms. Ma. Lourdes Tiquia entitled "Appeasement" that was published in the Aug. 16, 2022 issue of your paper. We would like to shed light on the key issues raised in the said column.

Ms. Tiquia begins her piece with the premise that, "peace has been bureaucratized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAP[P]), 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."

We find Ms. Tiquia's assertion confusing and ambiguous, as she fails to explain what she means by "bureaucratized."

What concerns us is that she has attached a negative connotation to the word, as it relates to the CAB's implementation.

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Based on the Opapru's mandate, peace cannot be "bureaucratized" as Ms. Tiquia implies. Our agency does not treat peace, nor peace-building for that matter, as the establishment of a bureaucratic system or structure but rather a long, delicate and comprehensive process that must be sustained and nurtured over the years.

The Bangsamoro peace process is the result of more than 17 years of negotiations between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). To say that our office has merely bureaucratized this process is an affront to the men and women who labored long and hard for the peaceful settlement of the decades-long armed conflict in the region.

Ms. Tiquia's argument that "When peace is a bureaucracy, we lose the edge of negotiations and peace is entangled with the notorious maze," is a totally inaccurate and a sweeping generalization laced in semantics. As a lobbyist and political commentator, she is surely aware that the negotiation phase with the various revolutionary fronts have been long concluded and we are now in the implementation phase of the peace agreements.

Jaded

It seems that Ms. Tiquia has developed a jaded view of the Bangsamoro peace process although she presents herself as its staunch advocate. She describes the 41 members recommended by the MILF to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) as "a tyranny of the majority." She must have forgotten that the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) specifies that the MILF "will lead the BTA, without prejudice to the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)."

How can Ms. Tiquia label the MILF appointees as a tyranny when the very same law which created the Bangsamoro government explicitly states that the former revolutionary group will take a leadership role? She must have an entirely different interpretation of the BOL or she has simply turned a blind eye to its provisions.

Ms. Tiquia then uses the terms "command" and "control" to describe the manner in which the Bangsamoro government's Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim has led the BTA. In the same breath, she quotes the chief minister's extensive explanation on why the body's term of office was extended from 2022 to 2025 and then asks what it has accomplished so far. Oddly, the answers to her question are contained in the succeeding paragraph of the article, as she is quick to point out the other urgent tasks the body needs to carry out.

What Ms. Tiquia failed to mention is that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao's (BARMM) economic performance has vastly improved, as its gross domestic product (GDP) jumped by 7.5 percent in 2021, and was named by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) as the region with the second fastest growth rate in the country. Moreover, there has been an influx in domestic and foreign investments in the area. The BARMM's poverty rate likewise decreased, which is solid proof that the dividends of development and progress were already being felt by the people. Again, this is contrary to the author's assertion that "the voters of BARMM continue to suffer and lag" and "there is now paralysis" in the region. As opinion makers, it is imperative for us to get our facts straight.

Retired generals

Ms. Tiquia also questioned the presence of retired generals in the Opapru who are involved in the normalization process. Perhaps, it has been lost on her that the late President Fidel Ramos, as well as former Presidential Peace Adviser Manuel Yan and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, all former military officers, were among those who laid the groundwork for the comprehensive Philippine peace process during their terms of office. These proud men in uniform had been to "areas of no return" and saw the horrors of war. Based on their experience in the field, they realized the importance of strengthening coordination between the security sector and Opapru so that there will be a convergence of peace-building efforts between the two. Being a former soldier therefore does not, in any way, prohibit an individual from becoming a peace-builder.

It is also disconcerting that Ms. Tiquia is trying to establish a link between Opapru officials and the Transitional Development Impact Fund (TDIF) of the members of parliament (MPs), which she said allegedly amounts to P30 million to P40 million per member. To set the record straight, there are no such funds in the possession of MPs because, first and foremost, this is not allowed under the law. The TDIF, which only amounts to P25 million per MP, is a socio-development project lodged under the different ministries of the Bangsamoro government and is not under the parliament. As such, the BARMM ministries are the ones implementing the projects. MPs are only allowed to identify initiatives from a menu of projects to be carried out by their respective ministries. The funds are lodged, disbursed and liquidated by the ministries. So, no funds were given to the MPs as alleged by Ms. Tiquia.

For instance, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has a program in its budget for the provision of sea ambulances or ambulances for each province. MPs can only identify from a menu of projects the ministry he or she heads wants to implement in a particular locality. The Ministry of Finance and Budget Management (MFBM) and the Chief Minister (CM) would then approve the request and then implement the project in the area chosen by the MP. The MP, based on his or her office's assessment, recommends to the MoH to provide a sea ambulance to an island-municipality as approved by the MFBM and CM. The MoH then implements the project and turns over the sea ambulances directly to the municipality identified by the MP.

BTA appointments

Thus, for Ms. Tiquia to insinuate that "Talk is rife again on appointments-for-a-fee, and around 19 were not re-appointed for no apparent reasons" is a baseless accusation that has no other purpose than to fan the flames of confusion, animosity and discontent among the Bangsamoro people. The truth is thrown out the window as she chooses to focus on painting conspiracy theories rather than discussing the rigid selection process that the new BTA members had to undergo.

As we have previously explained, the Office of the President ensures that the identification of the new BTA members undergoes a careful and objective selection process that is based on the following criteria: service, qualification and performance; contributions to the Bangsamoro peace process; geographical/sectoral representation; and acceptability/credibility to other stakeholders.

There are specific reasons why former MPs were not re-appointed. For instance, some of them were already holding ministry portfolios in the BARMM, and would thus be a duplication of functions if they were appointed as MPs. Moreover, there is also a need to allow other highly qualified individuals to serve in the regional government. As we have emphasized, the selection process is merit-based and not a political or transactional process as Ms. Tiquia would like readers to believe.

To raise valid questions regarding the BTA selection process is reasonable and laudable. It is the inherent right of every citizen to seek the truth. But to cast aspersions and spread false and malicious information regarding our agency and its leadership based on hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations is a serious matter. The agency is mulling to file libel charges in order to send the message that we cannot distort the truth, sow disinformation and tarnish the reputation of others in order to suit our personal agenda.

It is disappointing to learn that someone who professes to be a peace advocate would put in a bad light individuals and organizations who are at the forefront of implementing the Bangsamoro peace process. The MPs are men and women of credibility, integrity and vast experience. They were chosen by President Marcos not because of their political affiliations but due to the quality of service they could provide to the Bangsamoro people.

The new BTA membership exemplifies the new face of governance in the interim period of the Bangsamoro government — one that brings together former adversaries as allies, as they work shoulder to shoulder in the struggle to bring peace and development in the Bangsamoro region.

The parliamentary composition is as varied as the colorful dress of the different Bangsamoro tribes. The women, youth, indigenous peoples and young Moro professionals coming from the fields of medicine, law, engineering, among others, are all represented. Like the rich and diverse culture of Muslim Mindanao, the present BTA shows an assembly that is intent in charting the economic and political course of the Bangsamoro region.

More importantly, the newly installed members of the BTA is a testament to the unity among the Moro fronts. Seeing members of the MILF and the MNLF working side by side as public servants is solid proof that the animosity between the groups is a thing of the past, as they channel their efforts in building a better and brighter future for the Bangsamoro people.

As envisioned by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., he would like to ensure the completion of the implementation of all signed Bangsamoro peace agreements within his term. As peace-builders and peace advocates, let us work together and help him make this a reality.

Dir. Darwin Wally T. Wee

Head, Communications and Public Affairs Services

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