Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an Executive Order (EO) establishing an expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will ensure a more inclusive peace process in the country’s volatile southern island of Mindanao.

The Philippine government is now talking peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which had been fighting a bloody war for autonomy for Muslim-dominated regions of Mindanao for more than four decades.

True to his campaign promise, President Duterte on Monday, November 7, in Malacanang in Manila,  took a significant step to bring lasting peace in Mindanao with the signing of the EO that reconstituted and expanded the membership of the BTC.

In a report, the government’s Philippine News Agency (PNA) said that under the EO the Commission now has   21 members from 11. The BTC is tasked to craft an enabling law that will ensure a more inclusive peace process by accommodating more voices in the process of implementing the Bangsamoro accords. It was expected to refine the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which is pending in Congress.

duterte-murad-philstarIn his speech at the signing ceremony, President Duterte said he hopes that with the new BTC, just and lasting peace in the region would be achieved under his term just as he had promised during the presidential campaign. The President won with a landslide victory in the last May presidential election.

“When I ran for President, I decided to run on the platform that there will be a structure that must be acceptable to the people of the Republic of the Philippines and one that should be adopted willingly by the Moro people of Mindanao,” he said.

“My only desire is that peace for Mindanao would finally come. And if it can be done peacefully without a fight, we would be grateful to God, that not a single drop of blood has been shed in this new undertaking of giving the country finally a deliverance from violence,” the President said.

Present during the signing of the EO were Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and other members of the Cabinet; MILF Chairman Al Haj Ebrahim Murad and members of the MILF Central Committee; GPH Implementing Panel Chair Irene Santiago; MILF Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal; Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez; members of the Diplomatic Corps, among others.

“The signing of the EO that will reconstitute the BTC brings to the fore the sincere desire of the new administration under the able and strong leadership of his Excellency, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, to continue the path to peace. You will find the MILF a sincere and willing partner,” MILF chairman Murad said.

President Duterte directed that since there is only one Bangsamoro, the provisions not yet implemented in the 1996 agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the MILF be consolidated into one enabling law.

In view of this, the government has agreed to include among its nominees three members from the MNLF.

The BTC is expected to submit the draft law to Congress in the middle of next year.

President Duterte said that he would talk to the leaders of Congress to fast-track the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic law (BBL).

“I can commit to you now, madalian lang natin ito. We can have (a) special autonomous (region) within a federal government for Muslim Mindanao,” he said.

“I will talk to the (House of Representives) Speaker and the Senate President to fast-track it because I want it. If I could get a peace agreement with the communists and hammer out something for MNLF and MILF and all Moro groupings and even the Abu Sayyaf… If I could just extend my hand to friendship and it is time to have a country that is normal and peaceful for our children to grow in peace, I would have succeeded,” the President said.

“I am committed to the peace process and I pray to Allah it will succeed in my term. Sabi ko nga, maski yan na lang magawa ko sa bayan ko, okay na yan,” President Duterte said.

For his part, Murad vowed that the MILF would be a partner for peace.

“I came here today in this historic place in the name of peace and for peace. I come here today to offer partnership for peace so that together our people and we may reap progress and development. I stand before you to offer mutual understanding so that despite our differences we may still live together and build together a better future,” the MILF chair said in his speech.

He also expressed his optimism that the signing of the EO will pave the way for the immediate passage of the enabling law that will translate the provisions of the CAB.

“The CAB is the embodiment of the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsamoro people to determine their future and govern themselves within a larger Philippine Republic. It is not just our right but the right thing to do,” he said.

“And so today, my friends, I am here not merely to witness the signing of the EO but I am here to witness the rebirth of a new hope that we may finally achieve the fulfillment of the promise of a peace agreement for our future generation. I pray that peace, progress, justice and brotherhood will reign in our homeland,” Murad said. (Cielito M. Reganit/PNA)

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