Gov't, MILF to launch 'Sajahatra Bangsamoro'

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – As the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continue negotiations on the comprehensive peace pact on the Bangsamoro, both parties have agreed to start the process towards normalization.

President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad will launch “Sajahatra Bangsamoro,” a basic services program for MILF communities, at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute in Maguindanao on Monday, February 11. 

The launch comes amid the election season but Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras gave assurances the launch will not be a political event. He said senatorial candidates were not invited.

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec Teresita Deles said the program is part of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

“I think both parties have agreed that the Bangsamoro and particularly those who have fought and are coming into the Framework Agreement will not have to wait 2016 to feel the impact of the peace that is being built now,” Deles said.

In a speech at the 2013 Philippine Development Forum on Monday, Deles said the list of projects for the Sajahatra Bangsamoro was drawn up and agreed upon by the respective peace panels of the GPH and the MILF.

To be implemented within one to two years, the program will bring Philhealth services to MILF communities, as well scholarships from the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education Skills Development Authority, among other things. 

But Sajahatra Bangsamoro is not exclusive to members of the MILF, according to Almendras. It will also be open to all Christians, Muslims and Lumad in the area. 

“Sajahatra Bangsamoro is not about exclusivity, it’s about inclusivity,”

The word “sajahatra” means “blessings, prosperity and peace,” said Presidential spokesperson Abigal Valte.

"Sajahatra" is an Arabic-Bahasa-Melayu derivative denoting blessings, prosperity and peace. — Abi Valte (@Abi_Valte) February 6, 2013

Implementable items under the Framework Agreement

The normalization annex is considered the most contentious point of discussions under the FAB as it includes the difficult issues on decommissioning and policing.

But Deles has also said that although most items in the peace pact would have to go through legislation to be implemented, some items under the FAB do not need to go through Congress before implementation.

One example is the development plan under the Sajahatra Bangsamoro.

"The development part [of the FAB], which is part of normalization, does not need to go into any legal instrument," Deles earlier said.

But Deles also noted that Sajahatra Bangsamoro is only part of a more comprehensive development plan for the área.

The government could not give a specific amount as to how much funds will be poured into the project. This is because the MILF has yet to give their “exact number and details,” Almendras said, but this is “slowly coming through.”

“The intention of the national government is not to force them to conform to the structures that we have but whenever possible, we would like also to conform to their existing structures also so that it doesn’t become very difficult for them to work with us,” Almendras said.

For now, funds will come from individual agencies involved in the projects and the investment enhancement program of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, according to Almendras. 

The Transition Commission (TransCom) will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will provide the legal basis for the new Bangsamoro political identity. 

Deles earlier said members of the TransCom would be known by the middle of February.

Aquino’s Cabinet secretaries, as well as police and military generals will also attend the event.

Tengku Dato' Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian third-party facilitator of the peace talks, and members of the International Monitoring Team and the International Contact Group, are also expected to attend the launch. – Rappler.com