In his inaugural speech and first State-of-the-Nation Address, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. made no mention of what his administration planned to do with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
But the omission may have been unintentional as he more than made up for it by attending the recent inauguration of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament.
His presence in that gathering indicates his administration’s commitment to consolidate the gains already made in the peace process in Muslim Mindanao and to forge unity and solidarity with all sectors in Philippine society.
At the same time, it highlights the national government’s determined bid to accelerate socio-economic development in a region that has lagged behind the others in fighting poverty and improving the quality of life of Muslim Filipinos.
The attendance of Nur Misuari in the event is also significant as it affirms his commitment to peace in the region.
As the founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), he led the separatist war from the early 1970s that cost many lives on both sides and hindered economic progress in Muslim Mindanao.
But not even the signing of the Tripoli Agreement between the Philippine government and the MNLF in 1977 that would have ended the fighting could bring lasting peace to the region. A breakaway group of the MNLF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), continued the armed struggle to demand self-rule for Muslim Mindanao.
The MILF’s struggle for self-determination under successive administrations came to an end with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement on the Bangsamoro under the Noynoy Aquino administration in 2014.
The inauguration of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament last week should therefore be seen as an important milestone for Muslim Mindanao’s quest for peace and progress that have proved elusive for so many decades since the 1970s.
The inauguration of the BTA Parliament is part and parcel of a long peace process as ending armed hostilities is just the beginning.
The more difficult task after political negotiations is facing the many challenges that lie ahead in the political, economic and social spheres.
At the helm of the BTA are former officials of the MILF with long years of fighting the national government with guns but are now in leadership positions in region.
That gives them another vantage point in securing the peace and uniting Muslim Filipinos behind a platform of governance that should be inclusive and thus ensure the participation of all sectors.
It’s one thing to dig in one’s toes in trenches in the battlefield and quite another to sit hours behind a desk signing papers and holding long meetings with constituents to know what their problems are so that solutions can be found.
But that’s the formidable challenge now faced by the BTA as it goes about its work.
If, as has been said, war is the continuation of politics by other means, it may also be said that peace is the continuation of war by other means—through dialogue and negotiations, not violence and bloodshed