In March 2014, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peace agreement, which is intended to end the four decades of conflict and envisioned the establishment of a new self-governing region in Muslim-dominated areas of Western Mindanao, called the Bangsamoro.
In January 2019, a referendum paved the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Government, which will replace the current BTA. This transition phase has now been extended to 2025.
The extension gives the Bangsamoro Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) much needed time to continue working towards a long lasting peace. One of the main challenges facing the region is ensuring that the new system includes everyone, and that decision-makers hear minority groups’ voices. This is essential for achieving lasting peace and a more prosperous future.
Sarah Radam of The Leadership Advocacy (LEAD) Bangsamoro highlighted the benefits of connecting CSOs throughout Bangsamoro:
"The conference served as a very good platform for exchange of information amongst the CSOs from island and mainland BARMM. This is very instrumental in creating that strong network among the civil society in order to ask accountability from the BTA on their duties and responsibilities to their constituents. Conciliation Resources has provided a safe space for conversations between the CSOs and the government (Philippines Government and BARMM)."
CSOs met with a wide range of individuals from BARMM including the Parliament Speaker, Secretary General and Deputy Speaker. Officials from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) also joined the event. CSO participants saw activities and outputs of the conference as the first of its kind. Arlene Sevilla of Tawi-Tawi Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (TACOS) said:
"There were other events that invited CSOs to come together but it was only during this event that we were given the broader chance to meet and hear from the Bangsamoro Parliament and ministry heads of offices about the real score. We also never hesitated to inform them of our observations happening on the ground because they need to hear the truth. In fact, other CSOs have joined the BTA as officials and heads of offices but it was only Conciliation Resources that has thought of creating this kind of event that will bring the CSOs in an intimate in-person talk with the BTA."
The BARMM originated through grassroot organisations and action. In September 2021, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim recognized the relevant role of the CSOs:
“CSOs have played an important role in the Bangsamoro peace process. The CSOs were vital in the eventual passage of the legislation calling for the extension of the Bangsamoro Transition Period. That alone speaks highly of CSOs power and capacity to make lasting social change.”
However, CSOs from island provinces have felt that there has not been sufficient effort to engage them in decision-making processes and implementation of projects for the islands.
This work looks to help island CSOs to gain a better understanding of government processes in the BARMM, collaborate with CSOs in the region and build stronger relationships, connect with the BTA to establish a grievance mechanism for greater accountability and increase dialogue on political violence and transitional justice.
The project was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.