Just over a week after Congress failed to pass a law that would have created an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines, a Moro rebel group has warned of widespread frustration among Muslims and troops on the ground.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal told a two-day meeting in Malysia's capital that concluded Thursday that all present needed to find "ways and means to address the dangerous situation and avoid actions that may increase frustrations".
In attendance were MILF members, government negotiators and other stakeholders -- among them Turkish diplomat Mustafa Pulat -- to discuss the way forward for a law that is presently stalled in Congress that will bring 17-years of negotiations to a close, and end a separatist conflict that has killed around 150,000 people.
"The most immediate step is either the Bangsamoro Basic Law [BBL] will be refiled in Congress, or a new basic law, faithful to the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, be crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission," which will most likely have new faces as members in the incoming new Philippines administration, said Iqbal.
Congress adjourned last week for election campaigning without approving the BBL before new Philippines leaders -- and with them, a new political outlook -- are sworn in on the back of the May 9 presidential vote.
It does not reconvene until June 30.
"This [peace] is the only way forward,” the top ranking MILF leader stressed in the statement.
He said that both the government and the MILF “must provide them [with] hope that there is a chance” that the law would be passed “whoever the next President would be”.
Iqbal underlined in his statement that the BBL must remain compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) peace treaty, signed between the government and the MILF in 2014.
“This must be in the form of firm and unequivocal commitment from government that it shall continue to comply with its obligations under the CAB, particularly on the passage of the CAB-compliant BBL, which is a unilateral obligation of government,” Iqbal said.
He, however, assured that the MILF would adhere to the CAB and comply with its obligations.
"In order to preserve the gains of the peace process, [the] government and MILF should journey together in faithfully implementing the CAB, guided by the principle of ‘as is, where is’," Iqbal said.
In a separate statement from the Kuala Lumpur meet, government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer said both parties should not give up and must continue to pursue the peace process even after President Benigno Aquino III's six-year term comes to an end.
"We should listen more, engage more... How many times in the past did events play out to push us almost to the brink of giving up? But precisely because we persevered, we have reached this far in the process," she said.
"Let us end the war, the suffering, the tragedy, and pains of our peoples, of the soldiers and our heroic fighters, of our mothers and sisters, of our children. Let us try to live quiet and peaceful lives.”
She underlined that "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet," adding the Philippines variant "Who has patience, gets to enjoy the pot of boiled meat."
"If only we had the law that would have moved our road map forward in leaps and bounds. But we do not have the law -- yet."
Ferrer lauded the MILF’s approach to the process; describing it as a "once angry, tight-knit organization” that had increasingly opened up to other segments of society -- "the other indigenous peoples, the non-Moros, other political forces".
"The MILF today is a confident MILF, not a besieged closed organization,” she underlined.
"It is aware of the need for inclusivity. It is a pragmatic organization that carefully balances its idealism with realism. It enjoys the trust and respect of many people in civil society and government who have worked closely with their members.
"It has chosen peace."
Pulat, the chair of the peace process's Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB), said he hoped “the domestic politics in the Philippines would allow us [the IDB] to carry forward our work”.
The non-passage of the law delays the decommissioning process of MILF weapons and combatants as the peace agreement dictates that its process move with the legislative progress.
“[T]he IDB is committed to continue as... independent, relevant, adaptable, active, and a stakeholder in the normalization," said Pulat.
"I can also reaffirm the support of the Turkish, Norwegian, and Brunei governments as member countries of the IDB.”