Gov't, MILF to court public backing for Bangsamoro Law

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 17 2017 06:28 PM

Irene Santiago and Mohagher Iqbal, who head the respective government and MILF panels implementing the 2014 peace agreement, sign a joint communications plan to gather public support for the peace process. Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A massive nationwide information campaign, including "social experiments" for social media, is in the works to rally public support behind a law creating a new Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao.

The plan is outlined in a communications agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Monday, hours before a new draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang.

Both sides are hoping to build a "peace constituency" to make sure the peace process could withstand challenges such those arising from the Mamasapano incident in 2015.

Public opinion turned against the BBL following the deaths of 44 members of a special police unit in an encounter with Moro groups, including MILF combatants, in Maguindanao province.

Irene Santiago, who oversees the implementation of the MILF peace agreement for the government, was confident both sides had "positively moved" from this bloody episode.

A successful communications plan will make sure the Mamasapano crisis "will fade finally into the background," she said in a press conference.

But Santiago warned against the threat posed by violent extremism to efforts to end decades of armed conflict in the southern Philippines.

"The next 12 months are full of opportunities but also fraught with so much danger," she said. "The dangers are staring us in the face with violent extremism, the source of the crisis in Marawi."

ANTIDOTE

More than 500 people have been killed in close to two months of intense fighting between security forces and ISIS-inspired militants in Marawi City.

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF implementing panel, said development expected to come under a new Bangsamoro government would help prevent the rise of violent extremism.

"It is not in bounty, it is not in progress, it is not in development that people would be forced to act in a very frustrating manner," he said.

Iqbal rejected allegations that Bangsamoro people would secede from the Philippines if "given the authority or the opportunity to rule" themselves.

Such concerns surfaced during congressional deliberations on the BBL under the previous administration.

"The BBL is the menu for solidarity and unity of this country," he said. "The BBL is the antidote to the dismemberment of this country."

Irene Santiago and Mohagher Iqbal, who head the respective government and MILF panels implementing the 2014 peace agreement, sign a joint communications plan to gather public support for the peace process. Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

SMOOTH TRANSITION

The communications plan involves a "common messaging" strategy creating a "public will that will influence the political will," Santiago said.

"If the public is for the BBL, then the politicians will be for the BBL," she said.

The government and the MILF are eyeing the passage of the BBL within the year and its ratification in a plebiscite during the first quarter of 2018.

They hope to then "sustain public support" for a "smooth transition" from the regional government setup to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority. 

Iqbal said transition towards the Bangsamoro government would be from 2019 to 2022 to allow officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to finish their terms.

Under the MILF peace agreement, the ARMM will be deemed abolished once the new Bangsamoro territory is in place.